For decades, a disposable culture has permeated every part of our society, leading to environmental degradation, waste, and inefficiency. If your family is locked in a throwaway lifestyle, there’s no better time to make a fresh start. Here are a few trends that are helping people around the country save money, live better, and protect the planet.
1. Repair Shops
Disposable culture caused the near-extinction dozens of repair trades like tailoring, cobbling, and small appliance repair; but in environmentally conscious regions, these professions are making a comeback, mending tennis shoes and t-shirts as well as high-end luxury items. For a few bucks and 20 minutes of their time, not only are people saving something that would have been thrown away, but keeping someone local employed as well. Repair swaps are also popping up all over the country, where once a week or month groups get together to help each other repair their items for free. Check your local living section of your newspaper, the classifieds, and Craigslist to find repair shops or repair swaps in your area.
2. Local Trade and Resale
Craigslist is nothing new, and buy-local campaigns have been around for years—but the recent trend is in specialty sites like Craigslist, but only for a state or region, and only for a certain type of good or service. Sites for electronics, baby goods, home furnishings, produce, crafts, and services that are tailored for a specific region are great because they know what issues are affecting local communities, and are better equipped to prevent scams and spamming. It’s a great marriage of the convenience and efficiency of the Internet, with the security and personality of a local market. Next time you think about throwing something away or purchasing something new, consider seeking out locals who might be willing to trade, sell, or buy.
3. E-waste Recycling and Repair
While it’s been almost impossible to reuse or resell broken or obsolete electronics in the past, many manufacturers are seeing the benefits of selling a more lasting, modular product. More and more companies are licensing technicians and selling “verified” parts to ensure quality repairs, so you can have a more certain, secure experience when you take your computer in for a diagnostic. The trend in PCs and tablet computers is upgrade-ability and repair-ability. Starting in 2013, you’ll be easily able to add memory or fix broken screens or parts on more electronics.
4. Cell Phones
Everyone knows somebody who has a drawer full of used cell phones, now 10 years old and useless. Cell phones that are 3-4 years old are still viable and highly sought after as many people can’t afford the newest $500 dollar phone, so take advantage of that and resell your old cell phone for a couple bucks. You can use established sites like eBay, USell.com, Gazelle, or ReCellular, and some malls in the United States and Europe now have vending-esque machines that can tell you how much your cell phone is worth and purchase it right then and there. If your cell isn’t worth anything, they give you the option to donate or recycle it on the spot.
Perhaps one of the biggest culprits to the throwaway nature of our society is the fashion industry. Unfortunately they aren’t changing much other than the niche companies and products that encourage reusability. Rather, in line with the first point, people are not only taking their old clothes to be repaired, but they’re repurposing old articles of clothing into something fashionable. Thrift stores are becoming more socially acceptable and the norm as people use them to cheaply purchase material to create something they want. So invest in a sewing machine and start mending and creating!
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Aimee Watts is a staff writer for Mobile Moo. She has spent ten years telecommuting full-time, and loves spreading tips and advice for fellow work-at-home parents. She loves gadgets, new ideas, and skiing with her two favorite people: her husband and teenage son. They live in Evergreen, Colorado.
As humans, it’s our nature to overuse and abuse our resources. But this doesn’t have to be the case. It takes a conscious decision to change our wasteful ways and implement sustainable practices. Making your office more energy efficient, eco-friendly, and pleasant for you and your employees will increase productivity and enjoyment in the office while lessening your company’s carbon footprint.
Being energy and resource efficient and conscious of the health and well-being of those in the office will reduce the costs of running your business. Some simple changes of habit will save you a great deal of energy, resources, and most importantly, money. These tips will help you get your office on the right track toward becoming green.
The best way to transform your office into a green machine is to consider switching the type of energy your office receives. While it can be slightly more expensive, transitioning to wind or solar power is by far the best way to begin your green transformation. Numerous utility providers offer wind power as an energy option. Solar power will require a higher initial investment than switching to wind power. However, the tax rebates you will receive for switching to solar will help you recoup your investment, as most are able to make up the difference through the tax rebates and energy cost savings within five years.
With artificial lighting accounting for over 40 percent of energy use in the office, it’s important to limit use as much as possible. When you’re leaving a room, and are the last to leave, turn the lights off behind you. Even if you’re only stepping out for five minutes, there’s no need for you to illuminate an unoccupied room. Purchasing Energy Star-rated light bulbs and fixtures will also save you in the long-run. These bulbs use 20 percent less energy than regular lighting, and when coupled with timers or motion sensors that automatically shut off lights when they aren’t needed, you will significantly reduce your office’s carbon footprint.
Choose to replace the office coffee with a fair-trade, shade-grown, or organic coffee. Fair-trade coffees are produced and purchased from farmers who earn livable wages for themselves and their employers. Shade-grown coffee is that which was grown under the canopy of trees. This means the rain forests were not cut down in order to grow this coffee. Organic coffees are grown without harmful pesticides, lowering your co-workers’ and the Earth’s exposure to toxins.
Power Off at Day’s End
One of the biggest wastes of energy in the office comes from computers and other electronics being left on overnight. Make a habit to turn off your computer, along with the power strip it is plugged into, when you leave for the day. Even if you’re not using your computer, you’re still burning energy (and money) while your computer is plugged in.
During the day, you can conserve energy by setting your computer to go to sleep automatically during short breaks. This habit can cut your individual energy use by up to 70 percent. Printers, scanners, and other office electronics that are only used occasionally can be unplugged until needed, saving you even more energy and further reducing your carbon footprint. Get the whole office on board, and start saving money today.
The greenest way to print is, well, to not print at all. Many offices have transitioned to use recycled paper, but even that leaves a carbon footprint. The more you do online, the less paper you need, and thus, the smaller your office’s carbon footprint. Do you really need to print out every email, handout and document you receive? Keep files on your computer instead of in file cabinets, review documents on your screen rather than print them out, and send emails instead of paper letters. Lastly, use a PDF converter to allow your office to share documents without printing. Anything you can do to eliminate paper waste will make your office significantly greener.
Healthy Air Flow
Air pollution is a big priority when you work indoors. While you can make adjustments to reduce your energy use, there are other ways to maintain a healthy air flow in your office. Start by switching to non-toxic cleaning products. For the most part, a cloth dampened with water is sufficient to clean most dusty workspaces, and won’t put off harmful fumes for you and your co-workers to inhale. Continue your green transition by opening the windows to increase air flow. If your windows cannot be opened, make sure to take breaks outside throughout the day. Lastly, create a ban on all aerosol products in your office.
“Green” Your Office
If you bring plants into your office and gift them to your employees or co-workers, not only will they see it as a kind gesture, but they will have cleaner air to breathe, all thanks to you. Plants absorb indoor air pollution and increase the oxygen flow of your office. Get a green accessory to complement your desk, and those around you. You’ll be glad to see the color in your office, and everyone will be better off with cleaner indoor air.
This may seem a bit basic, but you would be surprised how many offices I’ve visited do not recycle. This is the 21st Century, right? You would be shocked at the number of products your office uses on a daily basis that can be recycled. If you don’t already have one, create a recycling station at work, making it easy for you and your co-workers to recycle with ease. All you need are a few bins and to post recycling guidelines above each to help your co-workers make a mindful decision while making your office greener. Here are some labels to consider:
- Plastic bags
- Cans and Bottles
- Paper products
- Ink cartridges
Spread the Word
Ultimately, creating a green office will be a team effort. The best way to stay involved in green practices at work is to get everyone involved. Share your practices with your co-workers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests creating a team that includes everyone from the CEO down to the newly hired intern. This team will have goals and benchmarks to make your office and building one of the most energy efficient in the country. It may seem like a lofty goal, but when you’re saving money and minimizing your carbon footprint, it will be well worth it.
Other ideas include:
- Setting up an office carpool calendar
- Purchasing company carbon credits.
- Encouraging your co-workers to take part in your new recycling program.
- Buying eco-friendly office supplies and products.
- Getfing everyone in the office to pack their lunch and eat together. This will allow you to not only share food with one another, but it’s a great opportunity for you to get to know your co-workers outside of the work space.
About the Writer
Lance Trebesch is the CEO of TicketPrinting.com & Ticket River, which offers a variety of event products and ticketing services. After nineteen years of Silicon Valley experience, Lance found the key to happiness is helping customers worldwide beautify and monetize their events with brilliant print products and event services. Listening to his customers and learning about how they plan their events – ranging from concerts to fundraisers has helped him gain insight and expertise on how to host a successful event that he is always eager to share.
Like you (I’m making an assumption here, but it’s a fair one since you’re reading this website), I hate the idea of billions of single-use plastic water and soda bottles going to waste, littering our waterways and landscape. It’s about time someone figured out a way to put those discarded bottles to good use. GreenSmart has done just that with a rugged and cool-looking laptop sleeve.
I was intrigued, though frankly a bit skeptical, when I received an offer of a laptop sleeve made from recycled water bottles. But I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived — and I remain delighted. I’ve been using my GreenSmart laptop sleeve daily since July, and it’s been amazingly durable.
When I say durable, I mean it’s withstood several plane trips and lengthy road trips, and traveled back and forth to the office each day in an overloaded computer bag for more than six months. Frankly, I’m hard on both my laptop and my computer bag. It’s not that I’m careless, just that I tend to carry way too much on every trip — including my daily commute.
One thing that makes this sleeve stand out is that it has texture on the outside and a soft, cushioned interior. A pattern of bumps spread across the exterior fabric makes the sleeve easy to grab. (There’s probably a designer’s term that sounds far more elegant than bumps, but they are bumps, so there you have it.) This has been a lifesaver on occasion when I’ve almost dropped my laptop. The bumps give the thing traction and make it easy to hold onto. Not so with the laptop sleeve I purchased before I got this one; that one is smooth and slippery — not the best combination for a person like me who’s always rushing from one place to the next.
The workmanship on this GreenSmart product is superior, and that opinion is coming from a finicky seamstress. I love to sew, and I know when someone’s given an article serious attention or when they’ve been slipshod in putting in a zipper or turning a seam. This is quality.
The sleeve I have is designed to fit snugly on my 15-inch MacBook Pro. I’ve never had an issue with the zipper, which works perfectly every time. Best of all, the zipper goes all the way down on one side, giving full access to the laptop from one end, if you carry it in a backpack or just prefer side access. I also think the color is cool, but if you’re not as fond of blue as I am, you can choose other colors and even other designs.
Here are more facts about GreenSmart, courtesy of their press contact:
GreenSmart’s products are designed to be green from concept, through materials development, to execution. The company’s variety of bags are made from toxin-free Neogreene material, as well as 100% recycled plastic bottles. In fact, they even include the number of plastic bottles used on each bag! Another fun fact is the company names many of its products after endangered animals, and in their support, GreenSmart donates 10% of its profits to non-profit organizations helping to create a greensmart planet.
If you’re looking for a great gift for anyone who carries a laptop, a tablet, a backpack, or a messenger bag, I highly recommend GreenSmart. Or, buy something for yourself — you’ll have a rugged, durable case; look cool carrying it; and feel good about saving the world from all those discarded bottles.
To learn more about these inventive green products, go to the GreenSmart website. There’s a whole lot more to GreenSmart than just one laptop sleeve. And from what I hear via the company founder, Tom Larsen, be on the watch for even more “new products coming out in the form of shoulder bags, messenger bags and other cool bags targeted at younger buyers (college) as well as a couple of new styles of laptop sleeves and covers.” Cool is getting even cooler.
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Blue Planet Green Living received a complimentary sample of the product reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided. Our policy is to review only those products we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a product more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free products and provide our honest opinions. (Oh, and we often beat them up a bit first, so we can see if they’re really as rugged as they’re touted to be.) For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.
Most of us are guilty of stockpiling jewelry at some point in our lives. It may not have been intentional, but more often than not we still end up with a jewelry box or bedside drawer full of tangled necklace chains and unpaired earrings — or even a wedding ring from a long-ended marriage.
The majority of the time, we feel torn between two options when our jewelry stash gets too big: keep it or throw it out. To respect the feelings of those who have given it to us, we tend to hang on to more than we need or even want. The new solution? Recycle it!
There is no need to toss perfectly usable gold or silver into the trash, and eventually a landfill, when it can be transformed into a new and unique piece that you will want to keep.
From an environmental perspective, repurposing old jewelry to make new pieces cuts down on the cost and global impact of mining for precious metals and gems. Many mines release cyanide or mercury into local water supplies and are often guilty of inhumane labor practices or despicable safety standards. While recycling your jewelry won’t necessarily improve the environment, it can certainly prevent it from getting worse or being mined within an inch of destruction.
Following is a list of options to consider:
• The Glass Slipper Project – Gently used formal dresses, handbags, shoes, and jewelry are collected through donations to benefit young girls who cannot afford to attend their proms. Once the girls are outfitted, you receive a donation receipt for tax deductions.
• GreenKarat – This is a recycling center with a twist. Any jewelry you donate to their MyKarat program earns you credit toward new pieces. You can also choose to donate jewelry to GreenKarat where the value of it is given to Basel Action Network, an environmental organization.
• Pawn Shops, Etsy and Online Auction Sites – If your pieces are in good condition but you just don’t want them anymore, you can earn some extra cash by selling them so someone else can enjoy your old treasures. If they are not in the best shape you can still sell them for scrap value, but be sure to remove any diamonds or gems and sell those separately to earn more money in the long run.
Many jewelers offer a trade-up program, so if you happen to have a ring that was originally purchased from a local jeweler, you may want to inquire about their trade-in options. The L.A. experts at www.icingonthering.com want you to know that you may have an existing lifetime warranty on your diamond or other precious gemstone ring, which may also be eligible for a trade-up program. If this is the case, contact your jeweler and ask about trading in your existing ring for a new, custom design. Your old ring will get recycled and turned into a different piece that someone else will cherish for years to come.
These services can be found online. They send you a special envelope in which you place your unwanted gold jewelry, then mail it back to them. From there, your jewelry is melted down so that jewelers can make new pieces, and you receive a check for the scrap metal value. Not all mailing services like this pay the same price per ounce, so be sure to do your research before sending away your trinkets.
It’s Your Choice
The important thing to remember is you don’t have to hang onto old jewelry simply because you can’t bear to throw it away. Choosing to have it recycled into a different piece gives you something new to enjoy, while recycling or donating it gives someone else the chance to enjoy your jewelry. Either way, you are helping to reduce dependency on mining to satisfy the world’s jewelry desires — and helping other people as well as the environment.
Karla M. Somers
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Karla M. Somers has acquired and recycled several pieces of jewelry over the years. She is a contributing writer for www.icingonthering.com, the Los Angeles jewelry district’s premier jewelry store.
Photo credit: http://www.icingonthering.com/imageview.php?pID=983&num=
Maybe you’re already a gardener, ready to plant some vegetables to reduce your grocery bill and gain some peace of mind about what additives you will not be putting into your family’s bodies. Or, maybe you secretly yearn for a yard filled with colorful flower blossoms from early spring until late fall.
If you see yourself in either of these scenarios, then The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting: Turn your organic waste material into black gold, is for you. No, this isn’t a book about planting a garden. It’s about how to nourish the soil you will use to grow amazing veggies and posies. And, I have to say, it’s even fun to read.
“The first thing you need to know is that no matter what you do—compost happens,” author Chris McLaughlin says. She sets out to educate, support, inform, and entertain her readers.
I’ve always been a kind of a sucker for the “idiot’s guide” type of book, since I don’t know all that much about anything. I’m not much of a gardener, but I started a compost pile 20+ years ago as an environmental gesture to remove organic waste from the garbage can.
McLaughlin is right, “compost happens.” I knew nothing. I did my composting with the most minimal effort possible. I created a designated spot in the far end of the backyard, put some landscaping logs around it, and began dumping all the kitchen waste there. (Even I knew enough not to put in any meat scraps.)
All I did was keep a covered bucket under the sink, then haul it to the backyard when it was full. Then I dug a small hole and poured it in and covered it up with some dirt. The microbes and worms did the rest. Simple.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t know about the valuable applications of the black gold I was creating has been a terrible waste. After reading this book, I realize I have been accumulating a pile of invaluable compost without actually putting it to use.
From “Idiot” to Composter
In this enjoyable, easy to read, and surprisingly thorough and diverse book, McLaughlin moves us from “idiots” to knowledgeable composters ready to create black gold with minimal effort and maximum results. She not only tells us how to make the stuff, but how to use it effectively and with ease.
Most environmentalists are aware of the rebound in “locavore” eating and the mushrooming of home gardening: community gardens, potted mini-gardens on apartment balconies, backyard gardens, plots shared with neighbors, and even indoor greenhouses to extend the growing season.
But we also are recognizing the urgency for using more sustainable methods. These are part and parcel of the composting process:
- eliminating synthetic fertilizers
- using natural weed control
- growing plants that are healthier and more disease and pest resistant
- conserving water
McLaughlin reminds us that “composting is sustainability at its finest.” It’s good for our gardens, good for us, and good for the earth. She quickly addresses the issue of common myths and bad reps about composting, such as it attracts rodents, or it stinks, or it requires lots of time and effort and is very complicated or expensive. Nix on those. Read on.
Composting Made Simple
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting is well organized, succinct, and rich in information, helpful hints, and DIY instructions. I particularly enjoyed the iconic little sidebar boxes in each section that address potential problems, provide definitions about terms and techniques, offer fun facts, and afford opportunities to “dig deeper.”
Perhaps most encouraging is the admonition: “Ignore anyone who tells you it has to be a certain way. Use a system that fits your lifestyle.” Yes!
The Basics of Composting
Here are the nuts and bolts (or shall we say, “the humus and mulch”) found within the 193 not-dense pages:
Part 1 – “The Dirt Beneath Your Feet”
- Learn what makes soil healthy and fruitful, and discover the benefits of composting.
- Find out how it works and the four main things every compost pile needs.
- What to compost and what to avoid.
- The difference between a “hot” and “cold” compost pile, and how to do it.
- Inexpensive do-it-yourself methods of building your pile.
- How to shop for commercially available bins.
- Troubleshooting if necessary.
- How to use the gold, once it’s ready.
Part 2 – “Worm Wrangling 101: Vermicomposting”
You can do without the worms, as I have for 20 years—or read it and then decide. You’ll definitely be better informed. This chapter covers:
- How to harness the power of worms for particularly potent composting.
- Everything you need to know about housing and feeding worms.
- What to do with all that rich worm poop
Part 3: “Creative Composting: Beyond the Bin”
- Bed, Sheet or Sandwich Composting (you’ll have to read it, I’m not telling)
- Grasscycling for keeping grass clippings where they belong – on your lawn
- Mulching is composting, too
- Planting cover crops for adding nutritional value to your soil
- Taking compost into the community as a way of sharing the wealth and building community
I told you this book was thorough and diverse.
Three Additional Resources
In the back of the book, McLaughlin gives us these helpful resources:
- Appendix A: A useful glossary of terms for easy reference
- Appendix B: The “Resource Appendix,” with helpful websites and blogs on composting, a list of retailers selling composting supplies, other books on composting, a list of university extension offices, and some composting organizations
- Appendix C: “Compost and Worms in the Classroom,” a fun resource for teaching kids, complete with activities and classroom planning
A Gift to the Earth
If you are or are going to be a gung-ho gardener and composter, this book is invaluable. If you are a new or casual gardener, this book is invaluable. If you are no gardener at all and just want to expand your horizons, this is also valuable and fun to read. If you want to help the planet and cease from putting your organic material down the garbage disposal or in the garbage can, by all means, take a look.
The truth is, I don’t feel like I’m as much of an “idiot composter” as when I began reading. And McLaughlin supports whatever composting efforts I decide will fit in my lifestyle. That’s a gift for me, my garden, and the Earth.
The Fine Print
Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.
Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to review only those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.
Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com. If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a very small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.
Have you ever looked at a beer bottle and thought, That would make a good candle? Like many people switching to a more environmentally friendly – “green” – lifestyle, artists are finding new ways to show their creativity while repurposing material that otherwise would be tossed in the garbage.
Tom Brown has found an outlet for his creativity by participating in the Iowa City Public Library’s Altered Book Sale and Exhibit.
For the past few years, people of all ages have been encouraged to participate in creating fun works of art using old books as the focal material of the work. Those who participate have the option of using their own library for material or picking up an old book from the Iowa City Public Library (ICPL).
Using recycled material such as books and copper, Brown went to work creating his piece for the exhibit: a lamp. Brown made the body from copper tubing and the shade from the pages of a medical encyclopedia.
“It was covered in skulls and kidneys and other body parts,” says Brown. He goes on to explain how he made sure he didn’t make the lampshade too thick. He wanted the words and images to create shadows on the surrounding walls.
Brown is not only a participant in the event; he also works at the ICPL. “People seem to enjoy the Altered Books event. Every year it seems like we talk about it being our last and then, come summer, people want to do it again,” Brown says.
Unfortunately, this year, it seems the event will not be continued. However, the local community libraries are contriving a new project to promote Iowa City’s literary culture and create interest in reading and writing.
Amy Leners is another who has enjoyed working with different “found” material.
“I think it was last spring,” recalls Leners, when she began searching for new and different ways to create art. “I went out on one of the trash days where anything and everything would be picked up. I noticed a lot of different sizes of bike tires, so I grabbed them.” After about a month, Leners decided what to create with her tires: a chandelier.
Leners first removed the rubber tires from the wheel frames. She used two tires: one a little over two feet in diameter and the other about one foot. Then, she says, she added some old beads she’d had for a long time to the spokes of the wheel. She stuck with darker colors for the beads, like crimson, violet, and navy.
Leners tied the two wheels together using old, white Christmas lights. Her final decoration is truly fitting for a college town: beer bottles.
“I used Rolling Rock bottles, because the light shines really nicely through the green bottles,” says Leners, who also admits it is a favorite drink among many of her friends.
Her current project is actually reworking her beer-bottle chandelier. Again, she is using bottles as her main material. “They’re just about the easiest thing to find in a college town,” she says. However, this time Leners is dropping the tire wheels for Styrofoam, an old magazine and IV tubing. Even though she bought the Styrofoam, Leners says she is preventing it from just being tossed out and sitting in a landfill forever.
Much like Leners, artist Isabel Barbuzza gets a lot of her material from people she knows.
“Sometimes my students will just bring me different materials like books and plastic – things that were going to be thrown out if no one would claim them,” she says. “Other times I may get a call from different departments or libraries that are getting rid of books because everything is digital now.”
Barbuzza is an associate professor of art at the University of Iowa. Her work has been featured nationally and internationally: from California to New York, and from South America – where she is from — to Russia. Her artwork has ranged in price from $500 to $20,000.
“I just love working with books,” Barbuzza says. Recently, she completed a collage titled “Ekstassee” – pronounced ecstasy – using the dust jackets from art books. The various University of Iowa libraries collected the jackets for her.
Barbuzza’s collage is approximately eight to nine feet tall and two to four feet wide. The piece incorporates hundreds of different pictures that range from images of God to Batman on a motorcycle.
“The piece is all about seeing,” says Barbuzza. She adds that it also deals with perception and the subjectivity of reality: what is right and what is wrong.
At the top of the collage is a picture of a woman’s face. Barbuzza says that the woman in the image is blind, yet she is covering one eye like one would do when they may not want to see something.
“The picture was really what inspired me to create this piece,” Barbuzza said.
Another work of Barbuzza’s that incorporated recycled material is a work titled, “Embrace Me.” It is a suit created from mussel shells and Vaseline.
“I had mussel parties and invited friends over to help me eat all these mussels I needed for the suit.”
Barbuzza says the piece is quite heavy: 60 lbs. She added that she made sure to try it on at least once before she began showing it.
Whether creating art as a hobby or a calling, getting material doesn’t have to be an expensive process. An artist can create beauty from trash as easily as from new materials. Ultimately, it’s just about getting your concepts across to another person.
Barbuzza says, “I respond to materials, and I use whatever material is interesting to me to get my ideas across.”
The next time you’re about to throw out a milk carton, or other objects, stop and think about what you might create with it instead.
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Louis Hayner, Chief Sales Officer for Alteva, responded to our favorite question for the folks we interview. Following is Hayner’s response.
BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to protect the planet?
- Implement Hosted Technologies.
When a customer chooses a hosted vs. premise-based phone solution for its communications, they contribute to an overall reduction in resources and costs of power and cooling by up to 84 percent. By reducing energy consumption, they reduce the carbon dioxide gas emissions produced as a byproduct of generating electricity.
We estimate that our solutions reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 900,000 pounds per year. This is equivalent to the annual emissions generated in 64 average homes! Additional contributing factors to such hosted-service savings include ability to support home teleworking, video conferencing and remote meetings, less maintenance and site support visits, lower power consumption, money saved on gas, reduced traffic congestion and CO2 emissions pollution.
- Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Statistics show that 90% of the world’s information is still on paper. You don’t necessarily have to implement an electronic filing system, but reducing your carbon footprint can be as simple as reducing your paper usage. Pay your bills online. Cancel any unnecessary magazine subscriptions and junk mail. Make phone calls or send emails in place of handwritten letters when possible. Don’t print out documents unless it’s necessary. By keeping electronic copies or files, you are also saving on your office real estate from having to load up on filing cabinets and/or lease additional off-site storage space.
- Out with the Old
Buy rechargeable batteries. A single rechargeable battery can replace between 50 and 300 throwaway batteries. Regular batteries are not biodegradable and are full of toxic materials. When they are not probably disposed of, old batteries can leak toxic materials. Also, make sure to donate any old items that you are not using anymore to the appropriate venues. This can include car batteries, old computers, cell phones, ink cartridges and paint cans.
Many towns recycle, but many offices do not. Keep buckets or bins around the office and urge employees to recycle their paper, bottles, and cans. If there is a shared kitchen space in the office, make sure to buy products in bulk – there’s less packaging and you’ll save money.
- Conserve Your H20
While bottled water comes in recyclable plastics, why not install a water filter in your kitchen faucet or purchase a pitcher filter like a Brita? You can also save water by taking shorter showers and installing a low-flow shower head and toilet. Also, don’t let the water run while you are brushing your teeth or washing your face. It’s hard to break some of these habits, but it beats breaking the bank!
Chief Sales Officer
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Ripley is a name long associated with uniqueness and — let’s be honest — oddity. The latest book in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! series is no exception. Flip to any page in this attractive, hard cover book, and you’ll find bizarre stories about all sorts of topics that will keep you reading and turning page after page:
- training pigeons to evaluate art by rewarding them with food, page 77
- a Russian man with a tree growing inside his lungs, page 111
- hair scissors that fit on the tips of a stylist’s fingers, similar to Edward Scissorhands, page 144
- and so much more.
The idea of reusing discarded items in new ways is hardly unique these days, and you might wonder how reuse and repurposing would fit Ripley’s definition of “odd.” Yet several of the entries in this book show highly unusual ways to reuse discarded items.
One of my favorites as far as ingenuity goes is the “trashy lingerie” created by artist Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch (Massachusetts). The bustier and panties are woven from a “fabric” of thin strips of “cola cans carefully threaded through a wire frame” (page 206). Though the press release I received says these skivvies are comfy, I have to wonder. Come on, would you want to wear metal underwear?
Have you ever wondered what to do with all those egg cartons after the eggs have been eaten? Check out the art of Enno de Kroon (Netherlands), who paints portraits, still lifes, and other works onto the surfaces of the cardboard cartons (page 210). De Kroon is quoted in the book as saying, “I consider egg cartons as two-and-a-half dimensional objects that offer remarkable possibilities.” Remarkable, indeed. But don’t expect a traditional painting; these one-of-a-kind pieces appear “distorted when viewed head on.”
When you were a kid (or your kids were kids) were Transformers a popular toy in your household? How would you like to have an 8-ft. tall sculpture made from auto parts, scrap airplane parts, and used motorbikes (page 244)? This lifelike (if you can say that about a hunk of metal) sculpture in the photo on the right is the creation of RoboSteel, an Irish company that makes replicas of cultural icons and characters from fantasy.
RoboSteel also is responsible for a suspiciously Vaderesque space soldier (page 245) that is about as creepy a villain as you might find in any film. Nightmares, anyone?
A more playful sculpture (page 196) is a 6 ft. 6 in. tall angel made entirely of used toys. Robert Bradford (England) assembled “Toy Angel” over two months, using thousands of plastic playthings, such as action figures, water pistols, a toy saxophone, race car tracks, and even a tiara (but on the statue’s knee, not its head).
Ian Davie (North Wales) paints tiny birds on swan feathers he collects near his home (page 206). Davie hand cleans and grooms the feathers until they are perfectly smooth and ready for his artwork. Then he coats the feathers with acrylic to make a stable “canvas.” He needs about a week to create each painting, but the reward is apparently worth the effort; he sells the tiny works of art for $900 each.
Art seems to be the running theme with the reused/repurposed items in this book. Alex Queral (Pennsylvania) sculpts portraits from a most unusual medium. The heads he sculpts virtually pop from the pages of recycled phone books (page 207).
Do these spiders scare you? They might if they could actually move. Those elegant eight legged critters are beautiful and sharp; they’re made from scissors collected by artist Christopher Locke (page 14). Don’t they make a black widow look almost benign?
Most people who play the lottery lose, of course. Have you ever thought about the environmental impact of all those losing lottery tickets? Two artists from Brooklyn (New York) created a full-sized Hummer H3 replica using $39,000 worth of losing lottery tickets (page 134). And that’s only 39,000 losing tickets. It boggles the mind to imagine how big a fleet of Hummers they could create if they used the losing tickets in just one state – let alone the entire country.
If stories and photos like these intrigue you, you’ll enjoy reading Ripley’s Believe It or Not! ENTER IF YOU DARE! You can purchase the book on in all major bookstores, on Amazon and other online bookstores, or at any Ripley’s Odditorium.
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Have you ever wondered what happens to the waxed cardboard boxes that vegetables are transported in? Most of the time, they’re dumped in landfills. But that’s changing, as they are now being reclaimed and turned into Enviro-Logs, clean-burning logs for your fireplace, campfire, or woodstove. Today, Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Ross McRoy, the founder of Enviro-Log, to find out his take on why Enviro-Log is a better choice as an alternative to wood. It’s too hot in Iowa to light a fire this month, so we aren’t able to review Enviro-Log for its quality of fire or length of burn — we’ll get to that in a month or two, when the nights cool down. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: Has this technology been around a long time?
McROY: About 10 years. The developers just couldn’t commercialize it. It’s a great idea. But there was no sense of market presence and how it fit into the marketplace and how to navigate the waxed box and sell fire logs in parallel, because they’re two separate business events. That makes it a challenge.
BPGL: Where do you get the cardboard?
McROY: If you go to a restaurant or grocery store, and you purchase a salad or a bag of lettuce, that lettuce was more than likely shipped in a waxed container. That waxed container is used to move all perishables around the US.
Plastic is also an alternative, but it’s an expensive, petroleum-based alternative. And it requires shipping in both directions. So, it’s not preferred.
Wax is a preferred container because it is pliable. Two heads of lettuce are not necessarily the same size. Plastic is very rigid, but wax will give. So, when workers are packing them in the field, they prefer wax because of that feature. They can put 10 head of lettuce in every box and guarantee it, whereas plastic sometimes doesn’t necessarily work out that way.
In general, the waxed cardboard moves from the farm, where it is water cooled — hydrocooled — which is what they do to all ground vegetables to improve the shelf life. By cooling it down with chilled water, the vegetable stays on the shelf or into the distribution system and doesn’t spoil as fast. So they prefer to do that. Then they’ll take it into the grocery stores and unpack it, put it on display, then take away the waxed box, fold it up, and throw it in the trash.
BPGL: So, typically, it just goes into the landfill?
McROY: Yes. They only use it one time, because of food contamination.
BPGL: How much of the waxed cardboard market are you diverting from solid waste?
McROY: We probably are doing between 20 and 30 million pounds annually, and we’re looking to get to 40 or 50 million here in the next 12 months or so. So, we’re pushing very hard.
We’re looking for other applications for waxed cardboard. We have a tremendous amount of opportunity handed to us. We’re not able to take all the opportunities. But we’re looking for partners that have energy plants so we can make them fuel that would be more efficient than wood burning. We’re doing some different things to continue to work with our partners to preserve as much as waxed cardboard as possible.
BPGL: Do you get criticism for burning the waxed cardboard? Or are environmentalists, in general, happy that you’re recovering energy from this waste product?
McROY: Here’s what we’ve done, because we did get posed that question, Is burning better than landfilling or composting? We actually did a greenhouse gas study. We found that, if a company were to divert our waxed box — let’s pick a grocery chain or a produce company that had two choices: they either throw it in the landfill or send it to Enviro-Log.
The perception, based off your question is, burning might be worse. But actually, it is 50% better in greenhouse gas emissions to let us burn it and return it as fuel. And that’s not even counting the fuel benefit to a home. That’s just strictly emissions from the burn event, versus landfill. That same box would generate 50% more greenhouse gases than it would if you let us burn it.
BPGL: How does that work?
McROY: You’re breaking down an organic component, so when it breaks down, one of the components of landfill emissions is methane. When methane is converted in the fireplace, it’s consumed, so you end up with a higher efficiency. There’s carbon and other components used in the calculation, but it’s a significant positive impact for us.
So, a grocery store or restaurant has a choice. They can stick it in the landfill. But, actually, an environmentalist would want it to come to our facility to convert it and send back to a home to heat the home.
Now there’s another benefit that we didn’t talk about. For every log you burn — say our log has got 50,000 BTUs, that’s 50,000 BTUs of natural gas or fuel oil or electricity they didn’t have to use. And in doing it, they reduced the greenhouse gas footprint of their fireplace, because it’s less than wood in general. And there’s the landfill effect — how much waxed cardboard they keep out of the landfill and help the environment in that way. Which is huge. It’s a huge carbon-positive program.
BPGL: Your advertising says that an Enviro-Log burns for up to three hours for a five-pound log. But someone on the web commented that the burn time was more like an hour.
McROY: That is probably not accurate. There are several factors that affect all fire logs, not just ours. One is if you burn it in a hot fireplace, under hot conditions. You can lose 20-30 minutes if you’re burning in a fireplace that’s already very hot, simply because it’s more efficient to combust.
There are a lot of variables. Testing shows our burn time to be anywhere between 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours 15 minutes. It varies on how cold the air is, how cold the fireplace is, how did it get started… all these variables.
So you have to go into a burn standard: flame in when you light it to flame out. Because it is a recycled material, it does have a little variance. But normally it lands around a 2½- to 3-hour range very, very consistently. And, occasionally, depending on how it got started, it might go into 3½ hours.
BPGL: What’s the best way to start it if you want to prolong the burn?
McROY: Currently, our fire log is a lot like wood. We light it. We take it out of the wrapper and use the wrapper as the kindling. It lights extremely fast; it’s probably the fastest-lighting fire log on the market in that regard. We like to train people to use two. That differentiates us. They can add one fire log as they need it. With the Enviro-Log, you can build a fire to the size you want.
BPGL: Why would you train people to use two Enviro-Logs?
McROY: Our packaging says to use two to start a fire, and crisscross them like pieces of wood. You can do it like a traditional fire log, and just burn one at a time. But we are unique in that we want customers to recognize that they can tend our fire just like they can wood. They can build a fire, and if they’ve got guests over, and the fire is dying down, with a traditional fire log, you don’t add anything to it, because it’s inherently not what they consider a safe practice.
But with us, you can add another log. Two hours into the burn, if you’ve got guests over and the evening is going well, you can extend it by adding an Enviro-Log and build a fire as much as you want. It’s the same thing with outdoors, and that’s an advantage. We want customers to recognize that we are like an ultimate substitute — and cleaner.
BPGL: What do you mean, “cleaner”?
McROY: Counties that have what they consider wood-induced smog are putting a lot of regulations into place about burning wood. With our fire log, we are much cleaner. They wouldn’t have an issue if everybody burned Enviro-Logs. They wouldn’t have any smog associated with wood-burning during the winter.
We’re even cleaner when you burn two than when you burn one, but I don’t want to complicate it. We have 30% less emissions. We’ve got 80% less carbon monoxide. We produce 50% more energy than wood at the time of the burn. We’ll burn a little bit longer than a bundle of wood. And, our logs produce 86% less creosote. That would be the three big attributes that separate us from wood.
BPGL: Creosote is a huge problem that can cause chimney fires. Do you not have to add a creosote treatment to a wood burner to keep the chimney from clogging? Or would you still recommend that?
McROY: You would still maintain your fire maintenance on your home. Our feedback is the chimney flue is very clean, so you don’t have to clean it as often. But you still need it inspected, and it’s good practice. The idea is, the creosote buildup is not there.
BPGL: You were saying that burning two Enviro-Logs causes less emissions than burning a single Enviro-Log. What do you mean by that?
McROY: When you burn two, you have a better entrainment of the air. You have better mixing, because your fire is a little more aggressive. As a result, you get better combustion. And the combustion yields better emissions. When you slowly combust, the traditional fire logs will give off smoke — they’ll go in and out of heavy smoke. And that’s just because there’s not a good entrainment.
But burning two stacked logs creates a teepee effect, and that’s the entrainment action. The air’s coming in underneath it, and it just becomes very efficient to burn that way.
When a fire is about to go out, it starts smoking. But when it becomes very efficient, all that smoke goes away. That smoke is uncombusted fuel. It’s not hot enough to burn. When you add a little bit more fuel to the fire, the fire gets hot enough to burn all the fuel. It’s very efficient.
It’s similar to wood. When you build a wood fire, you build a little teepee and you make it big. And while it’s burning real well, it has no smoke, and it’s a pleasant fire. As it begins to die out, it becomes a lot more fuel but not enough mixing to create 100% combustion. That is inherent with anything that burns.
That’s what we’ve found out from some of our testing. We don’t promote the use of two logs, simply because we have to compete one log to one log. But it’s nice to know that when you do burn two, you’re actually getting a cleaner burn than burning one.
BPGL: When you light Enviro-Log directly with a match, does it flame up around the log really fast?
McROY: It’s like lighting kindling or paper. It’s not a very aggressive lighting in that regard. It has no added flammable to it. So it’s just pure waxed cardboard.
BPGL: Do you have some estimate of how many BTUs folks produce in a year using Enviro-Logs.
McROY: It varies widely. I don’t have anything specific. The federal government keeps the winter fuel oil forecast statistics average, and you could extrapolate what it is. A normal house in the Midwest may burn up to two cords of wood, depending on how they use it. There’s such a variance. Some people use it as supplemental heat; some people may use it more as a primary heat. Some people might go back to their fuel oil for a couple weeks. I would think two cords of wood would be a winter event for somebody. We have people who will purchase several pallets of the material. We have others that just buy two fire logs, and they’re content.
BPGL: Who does your testing?
McROY: All our testing is done by Omni Environmental Services. They’re the leader in fire log and fire products, like fireplaces and pellet stoves, and things of those nature. They do UL and EPA testing. They’re retained by the other major competitors in the fire log industry, too. So they have a head-to-head benching capability. But Enviro-Log is the only wax box firelog that maintains an on-going test program with Omni.
BPGL: Do you add anything to your fire logs?
McROY: It’s just waxed cardboard.
BPGL: Do you sell retail on your site?
MCROY: We normally try to move customers to the retailer. But we do make it available as a convenience island, which is delivered by UPS to your door. That’s a cost, if you choose to go that route. But we do not sell what we could sell on our internet site, because it’s not healthy to do that with retailers out there selling the same product in different markets. Our retailers are our first priority.
BPGL: What else should consumers know about your product?
McROY: The big thing is that we’re growing. Awareness is key. People understand how we fit in the marketplace, and the versatility of our product is the key. We’re the only fire log sold nationally that can be used in a wood stove. And we can be used for camping. We have a tremendous amount of flexibility. It’s really a year-round product for the upper United States. We also sell into Canada.
State parks could use us for bug control. The ashes can be used as soil amendments. There’s nothing left over, and the ash can be absorbed by the campground. With other products, they’re not necessarily good for ash back into the soil.
BPGL: Why is Enviro-Log better than other fire logs for bug control?
McROY: In state parks, they frown against bringing in outside wood in — period —because of transmission of beetles and other bugs. Let’s say you pick up something in the northwest and you travel over to Florida, and you drop a bug on Florida’s coast that doesn’t go well with the forest, it will cause infestations. A lot of state parks — California and Georgia, for example — are big on not allowing outside wood to be brought into their state parks. You can buy it locally, but they discourage any transfer of wood from one region to another. I know Canada does the same thing because of the transmission of infested wood. They have a Japanese beetle in Canada, and if you bring your wood down to Florida, Florida could have it.
Our product is a versatile product. It’s a wood substitute. You can take it with you camping, and it has no shelf life. You can leave it in the camper, and then you don’t necessarily have to buy wood when you get to the campsite. If you have wood, but it’s raining, or you couldn’t get wood because you got to the campground late, our product would still light up and go.
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Been to a garage sale yet this summer? It’s not too late to catch bargains in your own neighborhood or even at a bit of a distance, if you know where to look. Drive around your town most any weekend, and you’re likely to see garage sale signs posted on several residential corners. But there’s an easier way (and one that takes less gas) than cruising the neighborhood to look for bargains: GarageSalesTracker.com.
Blue Planet Green Living spoke today with GarageSalesTracker.com‘s head of marketing, Rich Ruddie, who assists founder Franz Longsworth with everything from “answering emails to contacting people about working together, to taking phone calls like this, to customer support, and everything in between.” We think this is a great idea that’s sure to catch on. It will become an even more helpful resource as more of us sign on to post our garage sales. (What’s not to like about free advertising?) — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: How did the site get started?
RUDDIE: It came about when Franz was driving around and saw a garage sale sign. He wondered if anyone had ever thought to advertise their garage sales on line instead of always just putting out signs. He looked into it, and didn’t find much of use. He decided to make a site that was easy to use, specifically with the bargain hunter in mind for garage sales, flea markets, and estate sales. He added the Google map feature, which allows the user, when you sign up, to get turn-by-turn directions from your home address to the garage sale. That way, people don’t have to waste money on gas trying to find the address.
BPGL: What are some of the services that folks will find on your site?
RUDDIE: The garage sales, yard sales, and estate sales that users can list with us. We also work with a handful of local publications and a service in Wisconsin, as well, called Rummage Wisconsin. We syndicate their data to help expand listings come the weekend. We also have the directory that we built of all the consignment stores that are publicly listed, as well as the flea markets in the country. If you’re in Dubuque, and you wanted to type in Dubuque flea markets, you’ll find a listing of a handful of those. It’s got the address and contact information (if the number they gave us is valid). So that’s really cool.
We also have the iPhone app. If you have either an iPod Touch or an iPhone, you can go right from your phone, turn it on. It will find where you are, and you can find all the sales within whatever radius you’re willing to travel. If you’re willing to travel 10 miles within your area, it will show you all the garage sales for that particular week. And the really cool thing about that is, you can then hit MAP, and with the GPS function built into the iPhone, it will show exactly where you are, where the sale is, how many miles it is, and then it will give you directions to the sale.
BPGL: Where can users find estate sales listed?
RUDDIE: The estate sales are listed in with garage sales. We don’t have those separated at this time. Eventually, we’re thinking of setting up a particular area just for estate sales and antique shops.
BPGL: What is the advantage to joining the site?
RUDDIE: The advantage is, when you register with the site, if you’re browsing sales and don’t know where all those sales are, when you have your information in there and go to find a sale, it will already populate from your home address to the address that you’re trying to go to. Also, if you see somebody is having a sale and they’re selling board games or a dart board that you want to get, you can send them an email right through the form. They can email you back without your giving up your email address.
BPGL: Presumably somebody would say, “Would you hold onto that dart board for me? I’ll pay you extra — or something like that.
RUDDIE: Absolutely. I listed a sale we were having, and I got a couple people who said, “Hey, can I come early? I want to grab that couch. Do you have any extra photos?” We actually ended up having our programmer, when he did a little bit of a redesign, he added in an Early Bird section to say whether early birds are welcome or not welcome. Or, rain or shine, you can come. That’s where the idea came. A lot of people make a living from garage sales. They come early to as many sales as they can before the sun comes up, and they end up selling the stuff on Craig’s List or eBay or something like that, and they turn a nice little profit.
BPGL: That’s a useful thing to be able to say, “Early Birds welcome” or “Don’t you dare!”
RUDDIE: I’ve written a lot of helpful tips and advice for having garage sales. A lot of people do tell me, “Let the people know whether early birds are welcome or not, because if you don’t, you can guarantee they’ll be knocking on your door before everything’s all set up. If you’re trying to set up at 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, you’ll have a guy knocking on your door already, and he or she is trying to purchase some of your antiques, it’s going to slow you down from setting up. It can throw your whole day off.
BPGL: Do you write the blog, Rich?
RUDDIE: I write most of them. But Blogger changed the way they do things, and now we have to go to a custom subdomain, blog.garagesalestracker.com. So the programmer is busy, and unfortunately we haven’t been able to update the blog and make those changes yet. I’ve wrote up a whole bunch of posts in anticipation of whenever the blog comes back on line.
BPGL: Is there a charge for using GarageSalesTracker.com?
RUDDIE: It’s completely free. People ask us all the time. It is free listings. We hope to make money eventually from advertisers, because we have targeted demographics.
BPGL: What’s your personal passion about all this, Rich? Why are you doing this?
RUDDIE: Every Saturday and Sunday, my mom and I would go to garage sales and yard sales and flea markets. I’m originally from Maryland, and there were a couple flea markets that we always went to in the summertime. I came to school down in South Florida, and I ran into a friend who told me that his uncle was working with the gentleman who founded a garage sales website. He put us in touch and got me in. And here I am today, doing my part. I told my mom, “Hey, we always used to go to garage sales, and I got an opportunity with this really cool concept. It’s a new idea that hasn’t really been done.” She said, “You’ve gotta go for it!”
The other main reason is that I like to live by a motto to leave the world a better place than you found it. Hopefully, the next generation can expand upon that concept, and make the world better than they found it, and the cycle will continue on forever. That includes recycling, and having a comprehensive site for bargain hunters will help expand that vision of re-usable goods.
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When Blue Planet Green Living received a press release from The Creative Circus, a school that specializes in training the creative geniuses of the future in advertising, design and other fields, it seemed only natural to ask that a student write the story for us. So, we invited Sarah Gatling, a copywriting student at The Creative Circus, to submit the news article for publication. She’s a bit shy about taking credit, as she’s writing about an event she helped organize, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Here’s Sarah’s report on yesterday’s activities at Creative Circus. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
As you might guess from its name, students at The Creative Circus, an advertising portfolio school in Atlanta, are among the most talented and creative minds in the nation. Constantly immersed in the creative process, they learn what it takes to excel in the advertising, interactive, design, and photography industries. And they learn that “what it takes” is often a lot of paper.
A small group of students realized that members of the student body were discarding more than 5000 sheets of paper per week on campus. More shocking: Most of this paper was being recycled after it had only been used on one side.
At a school where creativity reigns king, they knew something unprecedented had to be done to change the way paper is used.
On Monday, July 19th, students, faculty, and administration were stunned when they arrived to a campus adorned in advertisements and free notebooks made using students’ previously discarded paper. The message? Flip the page over and use the backside. Fresh ideas don’t need fresh sheets of paper.
It may seem obvious that using the backside of paper for brainstorming and sketching would drastically reduce paper usage. But students are proud of their ideas, and want them presented as nicely as possible in class. The challenge of the campaign lay in shifting the paper usage paradigms of the students and faculty.
The surprise, paper production was unconventional and well-received. The positive buzz that the advertisements and notebooks generated in the colorful hallways speaks of a greener future at The Creative Circus.
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“We use every part of the animal,” says renowned costume designer Lindsay W. Davis. He’s holding what used to be a pink party dress. “This little girl’s 1950s party dress had chocolate stains on the front. We opened it up and stuffed it, and now it’s a bustle!”
By “animal,” Davis isn’t talking about a living creature, but about previously worn clothing that he deconstructs and re-imagines into costumes for venues such as Iowa City’s Riverside Theatre Shakespeare Festival. To their previous owners, they are castoffs, but in the hands of Lindsay W. Davis, they gain a new life and vibrant personality.
Davis, whose impeccable credentials include designing the original costumes for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a Tony Award Winning Best Musical on Broadway, is no stranger to the notion of recycling old clothing into wearable art.
Having designed costumes for 13 Academy Award winners (Al Pacino, Morgan Freeman, Helen Hunt, Marcia Gay Hardin, and more), he is well known in the entertainment industry. And his passion for conserving used garments is infused in every costume he creates.
“If an animal gave up its life, it seems only right to use all parts of it,” Davis says again. “The same is true for a leather jacket — or a wedding dress.”
In meetings with Riverside Theatre’s Artistic Director, Jody Hovland, for Love’s Labors Lost, Davis came up with a new idea. “Since this is a comedy about love that doesn’t work out,“ he said to Hovland, “why don’t we get wedding dresses and recycle them, turning them into beautiful turn-of-the-century gowns?”
“We both thought that was a grand idea!” Davis adds.
So Hovland put out a call for donations of previously worn wedding dresses. “We got 16 wedding dresses donated from Iowa City!” Davis exclaims.
“Who would give away their wedding dress?” I wonder aloud.
“Local people,” he replies. “People who know their old dress isn’t really something they want anymore: The dress is out of style, the fabric is wrong, or it’s just not good enough to keep. Yet, they have enormous guilt about throwing it away. And they know, with Riverside Theatre, it’s being used for a better purpose.”
But for Davis, the fabric in these old dresses is perfect. And the styles can be changed by taking the dresses apart and reassembling them with pieces of other garments. It’s something he’s been doing for decades.
Davis lets me try on a glorious beaded gown. “The sleeves are cut from the skirt of one dress,” he says. “Another beaded sheath dress became the center front panel on the skirt.” And on and on. Each piece of the gown was cut from another of the donated wedding dresses.
I take mental notes while he pins the pink bustle under the overskirt, completing the image. But I can’t keep up. So many parts of this dress used to be something else. And it is drop-dead gorgeous.
The gown doesn’t fit, of course, as each piece of wardrobe is custom made for an individual actor. But wearing it makes me feel like royalty. Who knew a Victorian gown could be so heavy? I now understand the practicality behind queens and princesses of old having ladies-in-waiting to help them dress.
In our culture, wedding dresses are almost always brilliantly white from neck to floor. Yet the dresses Davis created from white wedding dresses include a brilliant blue, two lavenders, and an aqua, with accents of lighter and darker shades.
“I’m a pretty good dyer,” Davis says, grinning.
“Pretty good” doesn’t describe his skill by half. As he explains a bit about his technique, I gain a new appreciation for the fine art of dyeing.
“We do what’s called a vertical dye,” he says. “That’s when you put multiple fibers in the same pot using different kinds of dyes.
“Most people look at a white wedding dress and think it’s all one fabric. When the dress is all white, you don’t notice but, really, it could be made from several different fibers — poly and rayon and silk, for example. And each one reacts differently with the same dye.
“If you have a jacket made of poly and rayon or poly and a natural fiber, and you put it into a vat of dye, it comes out plaid!” he says, laughing.
“We tried to get as close to the same color in the dye for each dress, but it still separated,” Davis says, explaining the darker or lighter shades of lace on each gown.
Streamlined men’s suits in vivid hues hang in the dressing room alongside the gowns. The overlong men’s jackets reminiscent of early Edwardian styles form a fascinating and playful juxtaposition to the elegant, ladies’ costumes we’re admiring from the ever-so-slightly earlier period.
“This green, recycling idea started because of time and money,” Davis says. “Putting on two giant productions in six weeks, you have to be incredibly efficient in human resources and money.” He’s referring to Riverside Theatre’s annual Shakespeare Festival, which runs from June 11 through July 11 this year.
“Do you see these marks on the back of the vest?” he asks, pointing to another costume for Romeo and Juliet. “Renee Garcia and I made those by putting clamps on the fabric before I put it into the vat to dye.” The marks are unique, and visually give the fabric texture when seen from the audience.
“We dye, cut, and reconstruct as many as we can. Nothing goes to waste. We take the hanging straps from one dress and use them as the stay tapes in shirt collars. We stuff big sleeves with remnants of wedding dresses,” he says, “and it’s worked unbelievably well.”
That’s no surprise at all, considering Davis’ illustrious career. His first New York job after graduating from New York University with a Master’s degree (he got his undergraduate degree from Harvard) was designing costumes at Radio City Music Hall. With decades of experience designing costumes for Broadway productions and film, he now focuses primarily on teaching up-and-coming talent at the University of Missouri in Kansas City (UMKC).
Davis also accepts occasional special assignments, such as this two-show gig in Iowa City. He designed and created the fashions for Love’s Labors Lost, but he is quick to give credit for the Romeo and Juliet costumes to Renee Garcia.
“I ran the shop and cut all of the garments and decided how the pieces we acquired would be recycled and re-cut, but am not the actual designer,” he tells us. Garcia is one of Davis’s students, who recently received her MFA from UMKC.
Several of the men’s costumes from Romeo and Juliet were created using castoff leather jackets the designers purchased from Goodwill and other thrift stores for just a few dollars each.
“It’s phenomenally expensive to purchase leather, and super time-consuming to work with it,” Davis tells us. By cutting up the used jackets, he is free to add embellishments, like the series of Xs applied to the back of a black leather vest.
Davis shows us how the principle of “use every part of the animal” also applies to the costumes Garcia designed. He offers Joe a chance to don a doublet and pants from the show. The transformation is startling, as Joe turns from modern-day photographer to a 16-century courtier. If not for his 21st-century glasses and his shaved head, he might just pass for a character from Romeo and Juliet.
Displaying another garment, he says, “This vest used to be a lady’s ’70s jacket.” And, when he points out the features, we can see it. But the artistry in the design and construction are such that the vest’s origins aren’t apparent to the uninitiated.
Asked how he is able to sew through the heavy leather and other fabric required for the play, Davis tells us he uses “a 1950s industrial sewing machine and super-strong nylon thread.” This is not your average grandmother’s sewing machine.
“I feel so strongly about re-use,” the master costume designer says. “Whether it’s a wedding dress or leather jacket, even if all parts of a repurposed garment aren’t used in its second incarnation, we save the bits to cut them up on a third garment.”
Joe and I have been meeting with Davis in the dressing rooms of the Shakespeare stage in Iowa City’s City Park, which, incidentally, is the stage where we were married two days shy of six years ago. The idea of tearing apart and reassembling wedding dresses into new creations has an odd similarity to the optimistic assembling of second-time-around marriages.
Wonderful things can happen when old dresses (or old people) are mixed together in improbable ways. And when the creation takes place in the hands of a master, such as Lindsay W. Davis, the result is a work of art.
Note: Love’s Labors Lost and Romeo and Juliet will finish their runs at Riverside Theatre in Iowa City this weekend. To purchase a ticket, contact the box office at 319.338.7672 or order online. Final shows are Saturday (Romeo and Juliet) and Sunday (Love’s Labors Lost).
Texas-based Vocal Trash uses some pretty odd materials to make music. They describe themselves as an a capella production that uses instruments made out of trash.
If you attend a Vocal Trash concert, you’re likely to see instruments made from car parts, water bottles, pots and pans, buckets, and brooms. It’s not exactly what you might expect for musical instruments, but this is a trademark that the group is genuinely proud of.
Founder and front man, Steve Linder, told Blue Planet Green Living that he was being earth-conscious without even realizing it. He had been using invented instruments for several years, but didn’t think about the environmental aspects of the show until the audience started to point them out to the group.
Linder became conscious of the benefits of having a “green” act and likes doing good while keeping people entertained. “We realized mid-stream that we were really affecting people,” he says.
“I started to realize that maybe this is my purpose. It just makes sense. If we’re going to do something, let’s do it positively.”
Giving Junk New Life as Music
Linder’s Vocal Trash band mates, including front woman and fellow owner, Kelsey Rae; DJ Chris Beck; guitarist/singer, Josh Caldwell; and singer/dancer, Larry Parrish, are all fully supportive of the concept of repurposing “junk” to make music.
Linder envisions an instrument, then discusses his ideas with Eric Davis of Knotafish. Knotafish specializes in creating unusual and unique instruments from other people’s castoffs.
What kind of musical instrument might Linder envision?
“We would take a gas can and convert that into a guitar,” Linder says, giving one example. The group’s invented instruments are all made of various “found” materials. Some are surplus items that are donated by home improvement companies. All the items would otherwise end up in landfills. Examples include old water jugs, oil drums, trash can lids, and scrub boards used as percussion instruments.
Besides being environmentalists on stage, the members of Vocal Trash have made a point to be participate in green living in their daily lives. “We’re all into recycling now that we’ve become more aware,” Linder states. “We’re just more conscious about throwing away stuff and that it ends up in a landfill.”
Entertainment for All Ages
The Vocal Trash show not only appeals to environmentalists, it also appeals to kids and their parents because of the theatrics, rap, break-dancing, and the DJ. Outreach to schools in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area is another positive way that Vocal Trash spends their free time. “This is a new page in our chapter,” notes Linder. “We just started doing this in the last year.”
The band performs only cover songs, because they believe that the fun for their audience is in recognizing the tunes that are playing and singing along to them. “Adults love it, because we pick classic songs to perform,” says Linder.
One of their goals for the future is to continue to spread their positive message. “We want to play for as many people as possible,” says Linder. “It sounds simplistic, but that’s [our goal].”
Vocal Trash plays about 150 shows a year. One of their favorite places to play is at the Iowa State Fair. “Iowa is a magic area for us,” Linder says. “That state fair is magic.”
They’ve been playing at the Iowa State Fair for about six years. They play for between 2,000 and 3,000 people and have established themselves as a regular act at the event. “It’s been very good for us,” Linder says.
Catch Vocal Trash yourself for a memorable, foot-stomping, hand-clapping, rollicking good time. Check the group’s Schedule of Events on their website.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
When was the last time you took a look at the old, cast-off furniture sitting in the corner of your basement or attic? You know, the pieces that were once useful and in style, but that haven’t seen the light of day for decades. Before tossing that chair in the dumpster, or letting that those end tables get musty in your basement, consider another option for your old furniture.
Lori Jacobsen, interior designer and co-founder of The Repurposed Home, can help you find new ways to use those seasoned pieces. The Repurposed Home helps customers use what they already have and make it new again. Jacobsen also does some serious “curb-shopping” to save classic pieces from the landfill.
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Jacobsen about her innovative company, which is based in New Jersey but sells primarily on the web. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
JACOBSEN: It started when I got married 32 years ago. I found when people change their homes, they get rid of beautiful furniture. I grew up recycling and never wanting to waste anything, so if anyone offered me furniture, I took it. The pieces might not have been my style, or maybe I didn’t have a use for them at the time, but I kept them. When my family grew, and we moved into a larger home, I had extra furniture — like a china cabinet or another bed — available to repurpose to meet my home’s style and functional needs.
I started Lori Jacobsen Design, in 2001. As I became more involved with interior design, it was natural for me to put to use all the things I’ve collected. I found it was a great way to incorporate repurposed accessories into design projects. From that, The Repurposed Home was born in 2007.
When you’re passionate about things, you tend to go a little crazy, and in my free time I started to put together various pieces to make new accessories for the home. Now I have a storage room full of these pieces waiting for a home.
My passions for lessening wastefulness and for design have merged. Essential to our unique business philosophy is assessment. When we’re going to do a remodel, we assess the existing space, its systems, structure, and contents. We take all that into consideration, and then we consider what we can reuse, repurpose, or recycle for the job. We try to use things that exist on site before we go out and buy new.
BPGL: When you say “we,” who do you mean? Do you have a large staff?
JACOBSEN: I do not have a large staff. The Repurposed Home consists of me and my daughter. However, I have an incredible group of industry partners who help address my clients’ needs.
BPGL: Do you typically work on homes or businesses? Or both?
JACOBSEN: I’ve worked with some restaurants and health care offices. However, most of my repurposing is residential.
So far, the health care offices and restaurants have only been basic bottom-line budget. We do try to use a lot of what we have there in a different way. A lot of times, if it comes to window treatments or little things, the basic requirement is the bottom line — and time; they just want to get it done. We have to educate a lot of people as to my assessment process, and hopefully they have some time to take that into consideration, when it comes to commercial projects.
I find a lot of people are very excited about our residential work. With the economic situation, people are repurposing used items not only to be good to the earth, but also to save money. It’s very important to them to assess everything they have and be very conscious of what they are going to buy in the future. And that works out very well for me. I’m finding interest in reusing materials is high up on their priority list, which is funny, because, in the past, you couldn’t get people to reuse old things, ever.
BPGL: Are many people in this line of work?
JACOBSEN: There aren’t a lot of people here on the East Coast who do this kind of work, but this niche is growing fast. Whenever energy prices are high, people focus on this issue and make choices to increase their home’s energy efficiency.
BPGL: Do you refinish furniture with eco-friendly products?
JACOBSEN: We do. I use a soy-based stripper, non-VOC paints, milk paint, and milk stains, as well as a water-based protective finish. These products seem to work really well.
When I first started, I used paint strippers and varnishes that weren’t earth friendly. Between breathing fumes and staining my hands, it was pretty awful. The chemistry of stripping and painting has really evolved. I’ve been able to strip these pieces of furniture in a green way that works. If I go to a house, and a client has a piece of furniture they want to reuse, we are able to strip, paint, or reinstate it in an eco-friendly way.
BPGL: Who does your sewing?
JACOBSEN: My daughter and I do all our own sewing and put everything together ourselves. Having an organized storage facility helps the brainstorming process along, affording us the luxury of having materials at hand. I do have to outsource some of the labor in regard to reupholstering.
BPGL: I see you have quilts on your website, do you make quilts, too?
JACOBSEN: I love to sew, and I’ve made a lot of quilts. What’s beautiful about this business is that I get to put all my passions together.
BPGL: Do you use all organic fabrics?
JACOBSEN: Organic fabrics are used in some projects. However, my primary fabric supply comes from salvaging fabrics that are intended for the landfill. We have a great relationship with a furniture manufacturer that has an overwhelming supply of excess fabrics from previous jobs.
While dropping off a piece to be reupholstered, I wandered into the second floor of the warehouse, which was stacked full of leftover fabric that needed to be disposed of. The facility wasn’t working very hard to find someone to purchase or otherwise take the excess fabric off their hands; they were going to throw the surplus away. You see, they’re in the business of making furniture, and they don’t want to figure out how to get rid of excess fabric. So if someone doesn’t come along and buy the whole lot of it, it just sits there until the room gets full. Then they send it off to the dumpster. So I said, “Forget about making my furniture, I want this fabric.”
I take a ride every couple of months to the furniture manufacturer in hopes of finding fabric for clients or projects. I can’t take it all, unfortunately. I take as much fabric as I can, and keep it until I find the right use for it.
Knowing that this option is available is exciting for some of my clients. A couple of my clients now say, “Do you have any coordinating salvaged fabric? Can I use it for a couch?” So the word is getting out a bit, and they want to look at what I have and see if they can use it. That’s exciting!
BPGL: Do you have a showroom, or is your business entirely web based?
JACOBSEN: We decided we didn’t need to waste the overhead and energy on a showroom. Our showroom is our website. As a designer, most of my consultations are in house, visiting the site. Our line of home accessories is showcased on our website. But the difficulty is in getting the “foot traffic” needed to sustain our passion for repurposing and recycling!
We also have friends who sometimes showcase our work at their brick-and-mortar places.
BPGL: What is your most popular product?
JACOBSEN: The decorative pillows. I started collecting my husband’s ties about 20 years ago, never knowing what I was going to do with them. I couldn’t throw them out, because they are so nice. When the business started, I had a large stack of ties. Once the word came out that I was making pillows out of ties, people started to say, “I just cleaned out my husband’s closet, and here are some of his old ties.” So people give me a lot of ties instead of throwing them away. I keep them until I need them.
The next-most-popular items are the unique, usually curb-purchased, refurbished chairs. I find people throw out some really neat, good pieces of furniture, and I just pick them up. Once you match them up with the best-fit salvaged fabric and give them a good cleaning, it becomes so easy to see their beauty again. They’re statement pieces. The unique fabric choices coupled with the pieces’ unique stories make for good conversation. People just love them, and they build rooms around them.
BPGL: Do people have problems with the curb-shopping aspect of the items you repurpose?
JACOBSEN: No. The momentum for more eco-conscious living is building, and everyone is getting excited. It’s really a nice time to be a part of this. This is something I’ve been doing for a while, and now I can share it with everyone.
BPGL: Tell us a little about the accessories shown on your website. What is Boontonware?
JACOBSEN: Back in the day, cafeteria food was served on trays made of Boontonware. It’s a similar material to melamine. They have all these different colors. I thought it would be neat to couple the Boontonware with a circa 1950s dinette set we fixed up.
I had been carrying around this dinette set for years, and now the retro look is back. It was in great shape. All we had to do was get some nontoxic cleaner to clean the metal portion of it. We were able to polish it up really well and find a similar 1950-60s fabric to recover the chairs. But we wanted to put it up on our website and make it look really awesome. So we used the Boontonware from an antique store in upper New York State.
We also found a vintage tablecloth with similar colors. So we put all these vignettes together. The Boontonware seemed like a natural fit with the 1950s table and the tablecloth. We try to find pieces that have meaning to us, and could have meaning to our customers.
BPGL: What’s the most unusual thing you’ve collected for your business?
JACOBSEN: I was taking a walk one day, and I passed by a shop that was throwing away hundreds of record albums. For some reason, I just couldn’t let them go in the dumpster, so I packed them up in my car. I really had no idea what I was going to do with them. They were from the late ’80s and early ’90s, like early Madonna and Rolling Stones. I was able to find frames with a mat, and turned them into fun pieces of pop art. The whole album is in there; I don’t throw anything away. It’s cleaned, so it doesn’t get moldy — I have a special cleaner that is made to preserve albums for years and make sure nothing gets built up in them. It’s just a cool thing for teenagers to put up in their room or their dorm.
BPGL: What is your biggest challenge these days?
JACOBSEN: We’ve had the website up for two years, and we’re just now marketing it. You can’t just put things out there and expect them to be sold. Having a business and doing everything yourself is such a long process — and a big learning experience. I thought at the time I was going to get everything up [on the website] and get all the products out there, but we have only been marketing for a short amount of time. Prior to the marketing, there wasn’t too much action, unless I was able to get something displayed in a store. Now we’re just trying to get people to go to our website and be interested in the products there. We’re hoping that it will increase.
Until recently, I never really considered buying used clothing, much less used kids’ clothing, but somewhere along the path of saving money and doing good for the planet I wound up in a used-clothing store. I was amazed by the buried treasures and great prices, and ever since, I’ve been hooked. I’m just one person who has reconsidered my view of used clothing shops — but I’m one of many.
Between watching the news and chatting with my girlfriends, it’s become obvious to me that many people have caught on to the idea of buying gently used clothing and other items. They not only save money, they also reduce their use of virgin natural resources. A practice that was once considered a faux pas is now common — and even a bragging right, when the discussion turns to the importance of going green.
I’m relatively new to the habit of thinking about my impact on the earth and trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Yet, I’m always excited about trying new things, and finding new ways to live a greener life has become an enjoyable challenge.
One Saturday afternoon not long ago, I was wandering through a shopping center when I came across Once Upon a Child, a resale store for children. Before I knew it, I was digging through the racks of the store on a treasure hunt for great prices and cute outfits for my two-year-old daughter, River. There are so many reasons “previously loved” clothing makes sense, especially for kids. It seems as though every two seconds they grow out of something; and every second they spill something on themselves; and they don’t even care whether you spend $20 on a shirt or $2.
Buying second-hand clothing for River was an easy step for me to take, but now I think I’m ready for a bigger one. It’s time to start buying used clothing for myself. This may turn out to be more challenging, particularly because I wear a unique size. Fortunately, I recently saw a commercial for Plato’s Closet, a store that specializes in used clothing for a niche market that includes my size. I’m very hopeful.
As I’ve learned, Plato’s Closet is part of the Winmark Corporation. Their brands include Plato’s Closet, Play It Again Sports (a resale shop for sports equipment), Music Go Round (a resale shop for musical instruments), and Once Upon a Child — the kids’ used-clothing store, where I now shop for River’s clothes.
According to Susan Baustian, the brand director of Once Upon a Child, a husband and wife team started the company in 1985. As the parents of three young boys, they were searching to find a use for their children’s old clothes and to buy inexpensive “new-to-us” clothes for their kids. With this goal in mind, they started Once Upon a Child.
Now, more than 20 years later, Once Upon a Child has 232 stores in the U.S. and Canada, with approximately 15 stores added every year. In addition to being the largest resale-clothing chain nationwide, Once Upon a Child has maintained its original focus: reselling used clothing while providing families with a great economic value. Baustian added that employees get to “go to work each day, proud of what [they] do on a daily basis.” I think that says a lot about the type of company and industry this is.
Intrigued by my shopping trips to Once Upon a Child, I visited their website. The home page contains a link to a Brag Book, filled with stories posted by Once Upon a Time shoppers. While reading some of the entries, I realized the enormous impact this store (and stores like it) have on people. There were a lot of “found-a-great-outfit entries” and “found-great-baby-gear-for-half-off entries,” but what really caught my attention were the single-mom and young-couple entries.
For example, a young mother named Paige wrote, “When I first found out I was pregnant I didn’t know what to do. Me only being 17 was scary. I had no job, no money, and definitely no baby clothes or anything for my baby. When I heard about Once Upon A Child I was very happy. I went into the store and found numerous things I wanted for my baby for a very cheap price. I couldn’t be any happier than I am now with my son…”
Somehow, I (perhaps like many of you) overlooked how many families and individuals are struggling to make ends meet. Reading the stories of young mothers struggling to clothe their babies and couples with “earlier-than-expected” pregnancies gave me a much greater appreciation for the impact of these stores. At the same time that these stores are helping people “recycle” their used clothes to other families and keep them out of the landfill, they’re making it possible for individuals to afford clothing that they otherwise couldn’t.
And now that River has plenty of “new” clothes from Once Upon a Child, I’m excited about my own pending trip to Plato’s Closet. Going green just got easier.
Picture yourself at a lush island resort. The melodic call of sea birds and the sound of breaking waves beckon to you. Nature’s splendor surrounds you in all directions. Three bountiful meals await you at your choice of 12 dining venues. Your hotel room features luxurious furniture and every amenity you could ask for. The golf course is minutes from your door. If this sounds like an idyllic vacation spot, it is; South Carolina’s Kiawah Island Golf Resort is all this and more.
When I received a press release about Kiawah Island Golf Resort, I have to admit, I was reluctant to write about what appears to be a pricey destination that uses an inordinate amount of resources. It just didn’t seem to be in line with the mission of Blue Planet Green Living. But the more I read about the resort’s environmental policies, the more interested I became.
As a person who has spent plenty of time at conferences, sales meetings, and conventions, I’ve stayed at my share of resorts and hotels. I’ve watched as items that have barely been used are carted off to the dumpster with no regard for the environment. I’ve seen waste on a scale that makes me blush with embarrassment, knowing I was part of the problem. So, no, I wasn’t interested in promoting a resort on our site.
But then I read the press release. I found that Kiawah Island Golf Resort does more than just pay lip service to environmentalism. What follows is some of what I’ve learned by reading through the materials provided on the Kiawah Goes Green portion of the resort’s website. If you like what you see here, consider booking your next vacation or event — or even your wedding — at this eco-friendly venue.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort recently earned a 2 Green Eco-Leaf Rating (“Good”) from I Stay Green, which describes itself as the “online social network of environmentally friendly travel.” The resort was evaluated after completing a comprehensive, 70-point self assessment. Conservation measures include: energy-efficient lighting; energy sensors; optional reuse of bedsheets for multiple-night stays; water conservation practices; low water consumption in landscaping; recycling in guestrooms and on the property; paper products made from recycled materials; and more.
But the travel industry isn’t the only group that’s interested in the resort. Audubon International has certified the hotel grounds and the five golf courses as Cooperative Sanctuaries. “To achieve the Audubon Sanctuary Certification, our golf courses and The Sanctuary [Hotel] demonstrated a high degree of environmental quality in a variety of categories, including Environmental Planning, Wildlife Habitat Management, Resource Conservation, Waste Management and Outreach and Education,” according to the company’s website. Following are a few examples of environmentally friendly choices made by the resort and the town.
Oyster lovers who eat at any of the restaurants on the property — or who attend an oyster bake — are asked to recycle their Oyster shells. Why is this notable? Here’s how it’s explained on the resort’s website:
In the summer, adult oysters release millions of fertilized eggs. During their development, larvae (young, free-swimming oysters) may travel great distances. When development is complete, young oysters must attach to a hard substrate, ideally another oyster shell. If no suitable substrate exists, the oyster dies. South Carolina has a critical shortage of oyster shells. To properly manage the state’s oyster beds and maintain these important oyster habitats, we must continually replace the oyster shells that are removed from the state’s oyster beds.
The entire island says “lights out” to streetlights (there are none) to avoid confusing sea turtles that nest on the beaches.
The resort offers several reverse-osmosis, water-refill stations on the property for guests who bring — or buy — reusable water bottles.
Classroom nature programs offer guests and their children the opportunity to learn about local snakes, turtles, alligators, and other wildlife. The Nature Center provides information about recent wildlife sightings as well as instruction about how to respect the animals and preserve their habitats.
Anyone who fishes is encouraged to recycle their fishing lines in special collection tubes placed at popular fishing spots and at the resort’s Nature Center.
The tennis center provides a reuse/recycling program for worn tennis nets and balls. Schools and nursing homes are the beneficiaries of much of the old netting and balls. Even guests dogs get in on the fun, when they receive old tennis balls for playing catch. Some 16,200 balls are recycled in a year from the resort’s guests.
With all of the information I read about eco-friendly policies on the resort’s website, I am tempted to visit this family friendly venue. But a look at their booking calendar makes it clear that 2010 is pretty well filled. If I’m going to go, it had better be this year. Perhaps you, too, are interested in a visit to Kiawah Island Golf Resort; 2009 might just be the year for your island eco-vacation. If you do get the opportunity to visit Kiawah Island — or if you take any other eco-friendly vacation, please write and let us know what you think.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
It’s no secret — and, sadly, no surprise — that those of us living in industrialized nations are using up more than our share of the planet’s resources and releasing alarming amounts of greenhouse gases. In 2006, for example, the Sierra Club reported, “industrial countries with less than 20 percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than 60 percent of the total carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere.”
Yet, when we talk about making small sacrifices to save our species from extinction — or from future water wars, as the planet heats up and snowfalls all but disappear — most people resist making changes. We all have our limits, certainly. But without making sacrifices now, what quality of life will we leave our children or our grandchildren? What gives us the right to run lights, TVs, and air conditioners with no one in the room? To drive huge, gas-guzzling vehicles with no passengers or cargo? To plant and water lush lawns in the desert? To waste space, resources, water, energy — all of which are in limited supply? …
An environmentalist friend vows never to fly. “I won’t ever see Hawaii,” he says, “but that’s okay.” He doesn’t want his carbon footprint to be that big. And I applaud him for it. But I don’t know that I’ll join him in his aeronautic boycott. My elder son lives in California. If we’re ever to see each other, one of us will have to travel.
A retiree we know refuses to give up flying, but she makes other choices that reduce her impact. She and her husband live in a compact condominium. Though they have the resources to live more grandly, they deliberately choose to live small — and have throughout their careers. She also bikes or walks or takes public transportation, rather than driving where she needs to go. Her goal is to live an eco-friendly life, and other than the luxury of travel, she’s well on her way to achieving it.
Other friends keep their thermostat so low in the winter that I want to wrap myself in a blanket when I visit. They’re used to it, and consider it environmentally responsible as well as economically beneficial. When I visit, I find it hard to keep from shivering. As a young woman, I lived for several years in an old farm house with a single oil burner; the dog’s water froze in the kitchen over night, and I had to wear gloves to do household chores. I won’t do that again, if I have a choice at all. Yet my friends’ conscientiousness inspires me.
Trimming Our Footprint
Joe and I are alone now, with our two sets of kids grown and gone except for visits. So it’s easy to get consensus on what we two can do. Here’s how we are cutting back, trimming our collective footprint, at least for now. And like the increasingly tight fuel standards and tougher Energy Star ratings, we will work to make improvements every year.
No more meat and dairy. Perhaps this is the most significant contribution we are making, and one of the toughest. The meat industry is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the auto industry. The antibiotics injected into and fed to swine, poultry, and cattle are reducing our own immunity. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) in milk cows has been shown to be harming our children. And none of this even begins to address the cruelty of mass animal confinement operations. We’re well on our way to becoming vegans. But we’re finding it challenging. (Suggestions will be appreciated.)
Become a locavore. We’re not truly locavores; we don’t exclusively eat local foods. But we’re working on it. We’re opting more for locally grown fruits and vegetables, and less for imports from thousands of miles away. We want to help sustain our local farmers and growers, but our choices are limited during the off season — and the off season covers two-thirds of the calendar here.
Buy organic and natural foods. This takes some work. And it isn’t always easy on the budget. But if we want farmers to invest in growing organic and natural foods, and if we want the cost of those organics to come down, then we must support organic farmers and producers with our dollars.
Use only natural cleaners. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in many of the cleaners on the market are unhealthy to breathe. And the harsh chemicals used to scrub our toilets and our tubs are unsafe to touch, let alone drink. If we want the air to be safe for our children and ourselves, we must not use dangerous, gaseous products. If we want clean water for future generations, we must not send toxic chemicals down our drains. We’ll save money, too, as the natural cleaners (vinegar, baking soda, water) are far more economical than other cleaners.
Grow food. We are transitioning part of our lawn into a vegetable garden. We’ve planted peas, beans, tomatoes, zucchini, and squash — all vining plants that we hope will climb the trellis Joe built. If I could, I’d plant fruit trees, but our yard is tiny and doesn’t get much sun.
Compost. All of our food waste now goes into the compost. Our gardens will soon be reaping the benefits of the additional fertilizers. We even recycle tissues, coffee filters, and Q-Tips. Will it all break down? We’ll find out in a few months.
Use less water. This means turning the water off between each dish we rinse, not letting it run as a constant stream in the sink. It means wearing our jeans a day or two longer than we used to and washing full loads, not partial ones. It means shorter showers, or showering together. It means not flushing every time — and purchasing dual-flush toilets when we next replace the ones we have. And it means we are filling up watering buckets rather than carrying a hose to water individual plants. (Yes, a nozzle on the end of the hose would work well, too, but we’re waiting till we have additional hardware needs instead of driving across town to the store for just one item.)
Heat/cool small spaces. We have a large house, which was designed for a lot of people. Our own numbers have dwindled, but the house hasn’t shrunk. So, we find ourselves heating or cooling just one room at a time. The rest of the house isn’t unbearable, but we don’t keep the thermostat set at our preferred temperature. We save a lot of money and resources by using a small space heater in the winter and a window air conditioner in the summer. (Did you know: “Only 2 to 3 percent of the energy produced by burning coal in a power station is eventually used to light a bulb or boil a kettle, because of inefficiencies at every stage of its conversion to electricity, its transmission and ultimate use.” That’s according to the AAAS Atlas.)
Shop with care. Americans in general have a lot of stuff. And we’re no exception. We’re used to finding bargains and getting excited by how much we saved on any given item. But we’re learning to shop more selectively, purchasing only what we really need and seeking the best quality we can afford. We want every dollar to count, and we don’t want junk that will fall apart and head to the landfill before it has time to gather dust. It’s not economical or good for the planet.
Buy quality used items. We know lots of people who’ve gotten great bargains on used clothes, used cars, used homes, used wood, and used furniture. We’re not big shoppers, but when we need something, we’ll consider the option of quality second-hand goods.
Don’t buy over-packaged goods. We look critically at the containers holding the products that we buy. Can the packaging be recycled? Is it made from post-consumer waste? How many layers of protection are there?
No new gold or gems. We don’t purchase a lot of jewelry, so this particular action doesn’t affect us much. After learning about the pollution associated with mining gold, silver, and precious gems, we won’t be buying jewelry unless it’s used or recycled. (Did you know that six tons of rock must be mined to yield two average gold rings?)
Print less. I used to think I had to have paper copies of just about everything. Those reams of paper took a huge toll on my time and consumed many square feet of space in my office, only to end up in the recycling bin after months and years of neglect. Crazy, eh? And I shudder to think of all the chemicals I used to print those papers, the trees that died unnecessarily, and the money that I wasted.
Here are a few sobering facts from the American Association for the Advancement of Science Atlas of Population and the Environment:
The average European uses 130 kilos of paper a year — the equivalent of two trees. The average American uses more than twice as much — a staggering 330 kilos a year. The paper and board industry is the United States’ third largest source of pollution, while its products make up 38 percent of municipal waste.
Replace old appliances. With rebates and incentives, in some states it makes a lot of sense to replace old appliances before they wear out. We’re not quite ready to do that — most of ours are less than 10 years old — but when we do, we’ll buy appliances with solid Energy Star ratings.
Pass stuff on. For 33 years, Joe ran the local university’s surplus system. He’s fond of reminding people that having stuff requires energy. If you rent space, you have to waste good money storing stuff you’ll never use. It requires space that has to be heated or cooled, and whatever you store has to be handled, dusted, moved, repaired… We are selling — or giving away on Freecycle — the things we do not need, passing them on for others to use and enjoy.
NOTE: For a good read filled with helpful suggestions about how to trim the stuff in your life, I highly recommend our friend Greg Johnson’s book, Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons from Living in 140 Square Feet.
Recycle more, trash less. Because we have increased our recycling dramatically, we have reduced what we send to the landfill by about 60-70 percent. Our city requires us to sort recyclables for pick up. It takes time to evaluate every item in our trash, but it makes us more conscious consumers.
Collect rain water. This isn’t legal everywhere, but in our city, we can collect our rain water for watering our garden and flowers. A friend gave us clean, used 55-gallon drums to make into rain barrels. Now, all we have to do is camouflage them so they don’t stick out like sore thumbs at the front of our house where all the gutters run. We are still working on that one.
Refuse lawn chemicals. It’s not worth having a pretty lawn when it comes at the cost of clean water. If you should see a dandelion in our turf, great! I hear they make great salads. In fact, we’d prefer to get rid of our lawn entirely and use our small plot in a more productive way. But that’s for another day.
Use alternative energy. If we get this done, it will be at a significant cost. We’re looking into adding solar thermal panels for heating our water, and setting up a geothermal system. But this is an older home, and retrofitting is expensive. It might not yet be feasible with today’s technology.
Use less gasoline. When we were faced with a long-distance move last year, we had no choice but to replace our old cars with a newer one. We bought a hybrid that gets 46 miles per gallon. It’s not a perfect solution. But we now work out of our home, and we limit our travels. We try to walk if the distance isn’t too great or time is not pressing. We’re toning up on a stationary bike, with plans to hit the actual pavement in the near future (if our knees don’t rebel too much).
No more newspapers. We save a lot of trees by getting our news on line. The down side is that newspapers are going out of business at record rates as consumers turn to electronic media. The world still needs investigative reporters, the likes of which are rarely seen outside of printed publications (with the exception of National Public Radio).
Toss the television. We haven’t owned a TV for about two years, and we rarely miss it. Besides the huge electricity drain, it’s a brain suck. (Ask us how we know. We used to have our brains sucked regularly.)
Our (Current) Non-negotiables. We all draw our own lines somewhere. Joe and I won’t give up our computers. We won’t give up our cars entirely. We won’t say “never” to air travel. And we will take daily showers. Will we always feel so tightly bound to these conveniences? Perhaps not. In the meantime, we’ll do our part by cutting back on the things we can live without.
I started the article by calling the things we do to limit our footprint “small sacrifices.” But as I look over the list, none of these things Joe and I do are sacrifices at all. Some take a bit more time, some take more energy, and they all take discipline. But the payoff — the small reductions in our carbon footprint and the lessened amount of pollution for which we must take responsibility — is well worth any extra effort.
So, I challenge you. Reimagine your own life with a smaller impact on the environment. Cut back on those things you can do without. Trim your household’s waistline. Reinvent your way of interacting with the world. Do what you can — whatever it is, whatever you’re willing to do now, today. Then tell us about it. Let’s learn from each other.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
When Matt White and his girlfriend decided to marry, they looked for wedding rings that were made in an environmentally responsible way. “We were aware that there were issues associated with gold mining, and we started looking for wedding rings that we could feel good about, that were made with responsible gold. We couldn’t find any. So we got married without any rings at all — and started greenKarat,” White said in an interview with Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL).
We contacted White after accidentally coming across his greenKarat website. We were intrigued by the beautiful designs, and by the fact that customers could actually send in old family jewelry to be re-crafted into new wedding bands. We also wanted to know what makes “responsible gold” different from other gold and why consumers need to know about it. What we learned gave us a whole new perspective on the romance (and responsibilities) of wedding rings. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: I’ve always thought of engagement and wedding rings as romantic symbols of a couple’s love. But from what I’ve been reading on your website, it appears that they’re also a symbol of serious environmental damage. Why is gold so bad, environmentally speaking?
WHITE: The issue that my wife and I had been aware of about gold mining — and this really came to our attention as members of Sierra Club — is that separating the gold from the surrounding ore is very destructive to the environment. There are two methods used: The large-scale mining companies use cyanide. They dig the rock out of the mine or out of a pit, put it in a pile, then dump cyanide over the top. The cyanide separates the gold from the ore. Theoretically, the companies have a restraining wall that catches the cyanide to be used it again. But, as a practical matter, a lot of the cyanide escapes and gets into the waterways. It’s an extremely lethal poison.
The other method is used by the panners, the artisanal miners — there may be 20 million of them around the world. They obtain a little bit of gold, say, in gravel from the bottom of a stream. They use mercury to separate the gold, and a torch to burn off the mercury. A cloud of mercury rises into the air, poisons the miner, then settles into the water and bio-accumulates through the food system. It ends up in foods we eat, such as tuna.
The Wall Street Journal did a story a couple of years ago about a mercury-capturing program in Maine. This was a program with great intent. Their idea was, instead of the mercury going into the landfills, they would collect it. But as it turned out, there was a hole in the system; the mercury was exported and used by gold miners. So it ended up in the environment anyway. It’s a very nasty problem.
BPGL: How did you decide to get into the wedding ring business?
WHITE: We saw an opportunity. We decided there had to be a market for wedding rings made with responsible gold. So we devised the concept of greenKarat. It was based upon one very firm concept: We would be as honest as we knew how to be with our customers about what they were getting in their wedding rings. This is important, because in making jewelry, it is almost impossible — no, I’ll go ahead and say it: “It is impossible to make a gold wedding ring that is completely ecological.”
When you get into the realm of, “We’re pretty good, but we’re not perfect,” we felt that we needed to be as honest as we knew how to be, as transparent as possible with the customer. So we devised what we call the “Green Assay,” which basically is a disclosure of the ecological footprint of each of the designs that we make. It talks about each component of the ring, whether the gold is recycled, whether it’s post-consumer recycled, whether the alloy is ecological — they rarely are.
We talk about the components of the ring. There are little bitty components, for instance, the prongs on a ring that may hold a stone, typically are made in factories. And they are typically of better quality, because they are made in factories, but you are not going to find a factory that’s using ecological gold, or recycled gold. So that’s a component that’s not eco-friendly. So we went through each step of the process, we talked about whether the gold was refined in a refinery that was environmentally responsible, whether it’s ISO 14001-certified — ISO is an environmental certification — and what rules it actually complies with. We laid all of this out and, in the process, didn’t know at the beginning whether we were opening ourselves up to criticism. But it turns out that our niche, the people that we are marketing to, are very grateful for that information.
WHITE: Patagonia actually was quite an inspiration for us. We looked at them a lot as we were putting together the philosophy of the company and how we would do it. I’m very impressed with Patagonia.
BPGL: I’ll bet they’d be impressed with you, too. I’m looking at your Green Assay on the website. It’s a great idea.
WHITE: In the beginning, we had an arrangement with a refiner. We told them that we wanted recycled gold and the criteria that needed to be met. They set aside gold that met our criteria. We were very grateful, because the refining industry and the jewelry industry were not very receptive to the concept of what we were doing. It implied a criticism of them when we talked about the ecological issues. There were a lot of barriers in that way. So it was quite a breakthrough to find this particular refiner.
The gold that we were using in the beginning was a mix of post-consumer gold and post-industrial gold, and we didn’t differentiate. We soon came to realize, as in other recycling, that post-consumer really does matter. That’s because gold is so valuable that businesses don’t discard it. So, if there is scrap gold, waste gold, leftover gold, it all gets recycled. They’re all very careful to do that. And so, by using gold that has been “discarded” by a business — if I may use that term — you’re not really changing the dynamic of the industry.
We have estimated that there is enough gold already mined on the surface of the planet to feed the jewelry industry for the next 50 years. And this is important, because the jewelry industry drives the demand for gold mining. About 85% of the gold that is used each year is used by the jewelry industry. So this is where you’re going to make a difference. And that gold that is already on the surface of the earth and is laying dormant that we’re trying to get out with the recycling program is either going to be sitting in bank vaults as an investment, or it’s in people’s dresser drawers as unwanted or broken jewelry. So that has been the thrust of our program, to try and liberate the dormant gold that is in the form of old jewelry.
BPGL: I like the word “liberate.” It does seem that gold stuffed in a drawer is, in a sense, being held captive — often in jewelry that’s out of fashion or unworn for one reason or another.
WHITE: That’s where our myKarat program arose from. It allows customers to collect jewelry from friends and family and send it to greenKarat. They can do one of three things with it. They can either recycle it with us, and we give them a store credit for the value of the gold, or they can reuse the gold that they send in, if it has sentimental value — and for many people it does. Grandma may have passed away, but you have her wedding ring. This is a way for those molecules of gold in Grandma’s ring to go into your ring, which is a very potent symbol of family and continuity. And then, for some people, what they really want to do is to just donate that old jewelry to the benefit of an environmental organization; they can do that, too.
When you send in jewelry, we are essentially buying its gold content, although we don’t pay you cash. We offer a store credit. So whether you are recycling it, or reusing it in your own rings, you are still going to get credit for the value of the gold. If you wish to use that gold to make your wedding rings, but are willing to forgo receiving the value of the gold yourself, we’ll send a check to your favorite environmental charity.
BPGL: I saw that you recommend the Basel Action Network on your site, as a place to donate the value of your recycled gold?
WHITE: Basel Action Network (BAN) is very actively involved in the eradication of mercury. That, in fact, was their core project. They are very much involved in the issue of [stopping the export of] toxic waste. Computers are an excellent example. Computers go obsolete after just a few years. The way it has always been is that they would be put on cargo containers and sent overseas, where the computers would be burned or melted to get the valuable components. There actually is gold in a computer.
BAN also has been taking a look at ways to mine gold without using mercury or chemicals at all. We think they’re good guys. They’ve been supportive of us from the beginning. They are as ethically pure as anyone I’ve ever met — extremely stringent. And helpful to us in evaluating our standards, the refineries that we use. They came along, they asked a lot of hard questions. We think they’re good folks.
BPGL: I know a lot of people who have odds and ends of old jewelry sitting around. They’d probably like having the option of using it to support a group like Basel Action Network.
WHITE: We’re really excited about the myKarat program, because we think this is the key to permanent change in the way jewelry is made. There are three things that are really going for it: One is that if you wish to use the sentimental gold, it’s very romantic, and it fits perfectly with the concept of a wedding, and the commitment, and the gathering of friends and family to celebrate the commitment.
The second thing is that it makes economic sense, because you are reducing the cost of your wedding jewelry.
And the third is that it’s actually good for the environment. And so, we sense that the combination of these things will provide enough momentum that it will eventually change the wedding tradition and become a societal norm to hand down jewelry from generation to generation, to melt the gold and use it in the next generation’s wedding jewelry. It keeps the whole system working in a way that’s more sustainable.
BPGL: How popular is the myKarat program? What percent of your customers choose to do that?
WHITE: A fairly small percent, though it has been well received. We actually have a bridal registry. Instead of registering for people to give you gifts, you set up this registry, and people download the form and send in their jewelry. We receive packages of jewelry from all the family members, and we aggregate them, and let the participants know who has contributed up to this point. Then when they think they’ve got it all together, we start the process of refining their gold and making their wedding bands.
BPGL: If you have 14K mixed with 24K, and people send in a variety of karats, do they work if they’re mixed up?
WHITE: Let me back up and talk about the process of using recycled gold — and this is an important point. The gold that we use always starts out as pure. Except on a very limited basis by request, we never simply melt down gold and make it into a new ring. What we do is take old jewelry and refine it to take out all of the alloys — base metals, like copper and nickel — because they are what deteriorate over time. And if you simply re-melt it and make a new ring, you’re going to start to get porosity, and you end up with a poor quality product. So what we’re doing is actually refining the gold until it is pure gold. What we are making is, in fact, no different from the jewelry that would be made with gold that had been freshly mined. But it doesn’t have the environmental baggage associated with it.
BPGL: How do you refine it, if you’re not using mercury or cyanide.
WHITE: You do have to use the bad stuff to refine it, but you use a closed system that doesn’t allow it to escape. There’s no water that’s discarded. The air is all scrubbed. It’s a very, very careful process.
BPGL: How much input do your customers have on their design? Do you give them a catalog or do you let them present ideas to you?
WHITE: It’s pretty much an open slate. We say, “Send us pictures of anything that has an element that appeals to you. Send us written descriptions of anything that you would like to incorporate into your design. It’s really wide open. It may be just a hand drawing on the back of a napkin. If they have sent a drawing or a picture of their own, we typically will not render anything beyond that. We just make it as close as we can to their instructions. A lot of people do like to send their own art. It’s really kind of fun.
BPGL: Do people sometimes say to you, I want to use this diamond or this ruby or this whatever — and do you set those in their rings?
WHITE: Yes. That’s actually a very common request. A grandma’s ring is a very typical case, where a diamond or other stone from a parent or other relative gets incorporated into the new design. We are pleased to do that. That just fits so well with the sentimental aspect of the whole wedding process.
BPGL: I read that you provide synthetic diamonds if people want them. Do you also have other synthetics?
WHITE: We refer to them as “created gems.” We have diamonds, and we offer created rubies, sapphires, emeralds, alexandrite, opals…
BPGL: Obviously, in ecological costs, created gems are a huge improvement. How does the economic cost of a created diamond compare with a diamond that was mined?
WHITE: The created diamonds are going to be roughly in the ballpark of a high-quality natural diamond.
BPGL: In price or quality?
WHITE: Both. The diamond companies, and there are just a handful that make diamonds. By the way, these diamonds are optically, physically, and chemically identical to natural diamonds, so they are, in fact, diamonds — not diamond equivalents. It requires sophisticated laboratory equipment to be able to differentiate the created diamonds from the natural ones.
BPGL: Your website says that you won’t use Canadian diamonds. Why is that?
WHITE: The Canadian diamond industry is an interesting case. They decided before they had opened their first mine in Canada, that the image they were going to try to project would be one of social and ecological responsibility. But the reality is that they are mining these diamonds in very sensitive permafrost areas. They are damaging the ground. They are eliminating entire lakes. There is acid rock drainage from blasting that’s getting into the rivers and going hundreds of kilometers downstream. But they don’t talk about this.
It’s a constant drumbeat of how ecologically responsible they are. And they love to talk about how they don’t have blood diamonds. The blood diamond issue came to a head a year or two ago back when the movie [Blood Diamond] came out. While it’s true that there isn’t a civil war in Canada, it’s also true that they are pretty much taking advantage of the native peoples there. The aboriginal communities are not getting the benefit of this fantastic wealth that’s being dug up out of the ground. The big diamond companies are taking advantage of them, just as they have everywhere. Back in Africa, when diamond mining first got underway — diamonds have not always been part of the fabric of our society; it’s really rather modern — as the value of the land went up, the native peoples, who were farming the area where the diamonds were found, were being taxed out of their homes and off of their lands. The only way that they could remain in the area was to go to work for the diamond mines.
The history of diamonds isn’t just about funding wars, it’s also about taking advantage of people. It’s a very sad story. So we shun Canadian diamonds, although we will put Grandma’s diamond in any ring. And if someone wants to bring a created diamond that they bought from someone else, that’s fine; we’ll put it in our jewelry. But we are not going to put any freshly mined stone in our jewelry. We have to live with ourselves. We have to be able to sleep when we go to bed at night. And we can.
BPGL: Not everyone can say that. It’s worth a lot to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and not flinch.
WHITE: We believe it’s a good thing that we’re doing. And we’re dealing with a fun aspect of people’s lives. We’re helping people do what they want to do. There’s really no downside here.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Green Weddings Begin with “Responsible Gold” (Top of Page)
March 18, 2009 by Julia Wasson
Filed under Blog, Bottle Bill, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Environment, Florida, Front Page, Garbage, Government, Green Living, Hawaii, Iowa, Landfill, Laws, Litter, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Natural Resources, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Recycling, Slideshow, Tennessee, West Virginia
When bottled water first appeared on product shelves, I initially thought it was a waste of money. I held off for a long time. Eventually, like many of you, I saw the relatively small investment as a fair exchange for the convenience of portability. It was an attractive lure. I bit. And I bought. And bought. And bought.
Now that I’m deeply steeped in environmental issues, I have come to understand the disaster of bottled water. Aside from questions about the quality of the water and the safety of the plastic bottles themselves — significant issues, for sure — there’s the problem of waste. Millions of plastic water bottles get tossed in our waterways, lie smashed on our roads, litter our green spaces, or end up in our landfills. In the best-case scenario, they get recycled into other products.
But recycling is less frequent than one might think. When most container laws (often referred to as “bottle bills”) were first enacted about a quarter of a century ago, personal-sized bottled water was unheard of. (If there was such a thing, it’s safe to say that the majority of consumers didn’t know about it.) Today, water bottles and other non-carbonated beverage containers make up a huge proportion of the beverage-container waste stream.
In the US, only 11 states have bottle laws at all, and fewer still include water and other non-carbonated beverage containers. With so many states as hold-outs, you might well wonder whether container recycling laws are effective. Do they keep trash off the roads? Do they have any other economic or environmental benefits to the states that have them? Consider this statement from a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation press release (January 21, 2009):
“Since the original Bottle Bill was enacted in 1982 requiring a five-cent deposit on beer and carbonated drinks, roadside litter has been reduced 70 percent. More than 90 billion containers and 6 million tons of glass, aluminum and plastic have been recycled, resulting in saving more than 50 million barrels of oil and eliminating 5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases – a sum equal to getting 600,000 cars off the road for one year.”
But that’s just recycling of beer and carbonated beverage containers. What about adding water, juice, and tea containers as well? Does expanding the law make much of a difference? Do consumers actually make the effort to turn in their empty water bottles, juice bottles, or energy-drink cans?
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
For the past two days, I’ve been researching which states currently have bottle laws and, of those, which include water and other non-carbonated beverages. Four states that I know of have included water bottles in their bottle laws: Hawaii, Oregon, Connecticut, and Maine.
I asked Amelia Hicks, Environmental Health Specialist for Hawaii‘s Department of Health about her state’s deposit beverage container program. She said, “We’re working to capture as many beverage containers as Hawaii’s Bottle Bill will allow for redemption, including new energy drinks and workout beverages. By providing a financial incentive to encourage recycling, the Program effectively diverts millions [of] beverage containers away from the waste stream each year. Hawaii’s Bottle Bill law currently includes containers for beer, mixed spirits, mixed wine, coffee & teas, carbonated soft drinks, and water. In general, we are finding that water bottles make up a large portion of the plastic bottles being recycled at the redemption centers. Our redemption rate for 2008 was 72%, a large portion of which may be water bottles.”
Peter Spendelow, Environmental Specialist at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said, “Water bottles are covered under Oregon’s Beverage Container Act, but only since January 1, 2009. The amendment was passed as a compromise between those who wanted to add containers for juices, teas, energy drinks, and the like, and those who did not want to add any containers at all.” Another work session is scheduled for Thursday of this week to once again discuss proposed amendments to the container law.
Ilicia Balaban, Issue Associate for Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) told me that the governor recently signed legislation expanding the state’s container law to include bottled water. The law goes into effect April 1 of this year.
According to the Maine Department of Agriculture website, the state’s bottle laws apply to all beverages. “ ‘Beverage’ means beer, ale or other drink produced by fermenting malt, spirits, wine, wine coolers, soda or non-carbonated water and all nonalcoholic carbonated or non-carbonated drinks in liquid form and intended for internal human consumption, except for unflavored rice milk, unflavored soy milk, milk and dairy-derived products…. Maine was one of the first of eleven states in the country to have a Returnable Beverage Container Law. When one looks at the history of success with the Bottle Bill, one cannot help but wonder why it isn’t a standard rather than an exception.”
The other seven states that have long-standing bottle bill laws do not include water bottles at this time, though legislation is pending in several states:
In Delaware, Bill Miller of the DNREC Solid Waste & Hazardous Waste Management told me, “Our bottle bill is 25 years old, and a lot has changed since it was written. Today, a big percentage of the market is water, juice, and tea bottles. I haven’t seen any draft legislation, but this is something we talk about a lot. I would like to see these items included in our Beverage Container Regulation.”
Greg Cooper, Director of Consumer Programs at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection informed me that, in his latest budget, the governor proposed to expand the 1983 bottle statute to include containers for water, juice, teas, and other non-carbonated beverages. The Legislature must approve it, of course, but the hope is that the expansion will become law in July.
Vermont has no pending legislation regarding non-carbonated beverage containers, according to Cathy Stacy, an administrator with the state’s Solid Waste Division.
Howard Heideman, Administrator, Tax Analysis Division, Office of Revenue and Tax Analysis, Michigan Department of Treasury, told me by email, “Michigan‘s container deposit law applies only [to] carbonated beverages. Legislation has been introduced to include non-carbonated beverages: Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Michael Switalski. Last year, Rep. Mark Meadows introduced a similar bill, and may reintroduce it this year.”
Bill Blum, Program Planner for Iowa‘s Department of Natural Resources, reports that HF 150 proposes expanding Iowa’s existing container law to include water bottles, glass tea bottles, power drink containers, and other non-carbonated beverages. “The bill is no longer viable because of legislative deadlines. It was assigned to a subcommittee on February 2nd. Anything can happen, but there’s not a lot of activity on it right now,” he said.
That brings me back to New York and that January 21, 2009 press release I mentioned:
“New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis today urged support of the ‘Bigger Better Bottle Bill,’ saying it would reduce litter, keep million[s] of containers out of our landfills, help in the fight against global warming and generate badly needed revenue.
“Grannis noted that a flaw in the current law is that the five-cent deposit applies only to beer and carbonated beverages. In his 2009-10 Executive Budget, Governor Paterson has proposed expanding the law to apply to non-carbonated beverages.
” ‘It makes no sense to continue to differentiate these containers based on their contents — especially with non-carbonated drinks now making up more than one-quarter of the beverage market,’ Grannis said. ‘An expanded bottle bill also will keep New York’s roadsides, waterways and parks cleaner. Right now, too many plastic and glass containers end up as trash in our parks, playgrounds, rivers and lakes. And this problem will continue to grow as people buy more water and sports drinks.’
“Grannis cited a 2005 study by the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency that found that while 80 percent of plastic soda bottles are recycled, just 16 percent of plastic water bottles are recovered.”
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably already a supporter of bottle bills. You know, as I do, that a water bottle is essentially no different than a plastic soda bottle. It still becomes litter when thrown on the ground. It still breaks down into minute particles that add to water pollution and kill tiny sea life. It still required precious resources in its manufacture.
For years, only a few states have had bottle laws on their books, but change is coming. In addition to the revisions proposed regarding which types of containers are covered, several additional states are working to pass new bottle bills: Florida, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
If you’re a resident of a state (or nation) that currently has a bottle law, be sure to thank your legislators. Let them know you support keeping the laws in place — and applaud those who have had the wisdom to revise the law to include water, juice, tea, and energy drinks.
But what if you don’t have a bottle law in place? You can still take action. Start by learning all you can about the bottle laws in other locales. A great site for a state-by-state and country-by-country overview is BottleBill.org. To be sure you have the latest scoop, however, contact your state officials directly. (To those of you in other countries, my apologies that this post is so self-focused. Feel free to write and let us know about your own laws.) Then let your legislators know what you want: a bottle bill that covers all types of beverage containers.
There’s even a growing movement to create a national bottle bill, which would simplify the redemption process and improve litter across the country. Want to find out more? Check Care2‘s petition site. Then take action. Sign the petition. Let your senators and representatives know that you support a nationwide bottle bill. (You do — don’t you?)
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
“That’s so cute! Where did you get that?”
We’ve all said it to our friends, admiring a blouse, a skirt, a purse, or a pair of shoes. And they’ve said it to us. But we all get tired of our own clothes after a while. Instead of running out to the store to pick up a new item for yourself, consider swishing — swapping before shopping — as an environmentally friendly way to get those super-adorable clothes your friends own. Swishing is easy to do, and a fun way to enhance your wardrobe without spending a dime.
The traditional dictionary definition of swishing is “to rustle, as silk.” But Futerra Sustainability Communications, a group advocating for environmentalism through swishing, has redefined the word to mean “to rustle clothes from friends.” Swishing has become a major trend in London, and swishing parties are making their way across the ocean to the United States.
Swishing parties in the U.S. are most commonly found in New York and other metropolitan areas. These parties are known as Swap-O-Rama-Rama workshops and are defined as “where a community explores creative reuse through the recycling of used clothing.” Sound boring? It’s anything but!
Swishing is a great way to prevent older clothes from ending up in the landfill, and it’s really quite simple. If you’re in the UK, you can find times and places of organized swishes on the official Swishing website. If you’re in the US, go to the Swap-O-Rama-Rama website. All you have to do to attend a swishing party is bring at least one piece of fine quality clothing (no rips, holes, or stains allowed), a pair of shoes, or accessories pulled from the corner of the closet you no longer visit. Of course, you are always more than welcome to bring more than one article of clothing. While brand-name garments are great to trade and to receive, it’s not at all a requirement.
Typically, the host serves drinks and food before the swish. Guests can use this time to check out the items that have been collected. Once the swishing begins, it’s a free-for-all. You can leave with as many items as you can get your hands on, but you are not allowed to claim any items before the swish opens. The more people that attend, the more stuff you’ll get!
Typically, at least one organized swish occurs every month. But you shouldn’t feel limited to large-scale, organized swishing parties, because you are more than welcome to host your own. That way, you can keep all the clothes that no one else claims after the party ends, or donate them to charity if you’d like.
I hosted my own party as a way of encouraging friends and acquaintances to become more environmentally friendly about their used clothes. It’s so easy, anyone can do it.
MY SWISHING PARTY
Preparing for an evening of swishing is relatively simple and stress free. Since swishing is intended to be a party, I decided to make it feel like one by sending out invitations. Because the success of the party relies on how many people attend, I made sure to specifically include in the invitation that my guests could bring as many people as they wanted.
As a university student, I’m always busy, so I took a simple approach and just made out a general invitation with the date, place, and time. If you are going to host your own party, you can spruce up the invitation in any way you want. Or, to make it a bit easier on yourself, you can download a pre-made invitation from Swishing.org.
Once I had established the date, time, and number of guests, I collected clothes from guests from a few days to a few hours before the party. About three hours before the swish, I began to display the clothes I had collected. Because of tight space, I had to get a bit creative with laying out the clothes. I hung dresses on hangers from nails in the wall, sprawled clothes over couches and tables, and placed shoes in a single line in the hallway. I even hung clothes on the shower curtain rod.
To make the swish a bit more organized, I separated clothes based on function: formal and casual clothes, dresses, and shoes all ended up in different locations. Nothing about how you place the clothes has to be professional, though, because in a few hours people will be rummaging through things like mad.
I started my swishing party with drinks and snacks that were easy to prepare ahead of time. Although many people who host swishing parties prefer to serve wine, I took the cheaper route and decided to share Kool-Aid and fruit punch with my guests. It might seem silly, but these drinks are far from bland. I spruced mine up by playfully serving them in real wine glasses and by mixing flavors to create something that tasted “exotic.”
Because I didn’t want to worry about baking treats prior to the party, I bought chips, popcorn, and other simple snacks. To play up the store-bought goodies, I put jelly beans and individually wrapped chocolates in larger glasses, so each guest could have their own. It doesn’t really matter what you serve for snacks — or what you serve them in. Use whatever you have. Make it easy on yourself and have some fun.
When my guests arrived at 7 p.m., I allotted 30 minutes for conversation and snacking. This was also the time when people could sift through the clothes to pick out things they wanted to go for ahead of time. About five minutes before officially opening the swish, I gave a warning so everyone could prepare themselves, followed by a five-second countdown when the time for browsing was over.
When the swish opened, people were running around all over the place to get what they wanted. But because we were more of an intimate group than larger, organized swishes tend to be, it wasn’t terribly hectic, and nobody needed to worry about getting trampled over a cute pair of shoes. At the end of the swish, everyone had claimed something new that they loved, and some even walked away with brand-new outfits. It’s certainly an experience won’t soon forget, and because I had so much fun, I plan to host another in the future.
BE GREEN AND SAVE GREEN
Buying new clothing is overrated. The cost of sweaters, purses, shoes, and jeans can add up quickly. Too often, we end up not liking some of those items we “just had to buy.” Before they’re barely worn — or with price tags still on — they get tossed in the trash or neglected in the back of a closet. Swishing is a great way to give clothes and accessories away and get free items in return. Hey, there’s nothing better than free stuff! So get out there and throw a swishing party of your own
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